There must be millions of mothers-in-law who are just fine. My own mother-in-law was one of these. She never said anything about anybody that was ugly, and her three sons-in-law were all just perfect. I was one of these. As for my own mother, who we will call Gertrude, she was quite a different story. She rarely hesitated to offer her opinion on most topics. In fact, if she ever withheld an opinion, I never knew it. She was not a bad person, but my lovely wife and I certainly held different perspectives of her, and her many views. If she would only withhold some of her views some of the time, the sailing would be far smoother. She never did.
On the other hand, my wife, who we will call Lois, is no wallflower. She is not willing to just hang out and allow others free reign to express an opinion different from her own. On numerous occasions, I inquired if she ever withheld an opinion. She assured me that she often had to bite her tongue and fight back expressing what all was on her mind. A compelling explanation for this is that she was busy expressing another opinion at the time, and some opinions just have to wait their turn to be expressed. In any event, these two strong-willed women wound up related by marriage, a relationship that was strained on a regular basis. Only chronic fatigue seemed to slow down this process.
One specific sequence captures the essence of their ongoing relationship. Through the years, a generation gap appeared quite vividly. From the older school, Gertrude believed that a healthy shot of Clorox in each washer-full of laundry performed wonders. Lois, from the newer school, was convinced that Clorox was not only unnecessary, but would severely damage many fabrics. After several years of debating this difference, the battle lines were clearly drawn. As was always the case, when visiting in each other’s homes, the laundry facility was shared. When less than a full load was available, one might say to the other something like the following:
“Gertrude, I have a small load of colored clothes to wash. Do you have anything to add to it?” Lois asked.
“No, Lois,” Gertrude would say. “You go ahead and run it. I have to add a little Clorox to my clothes, because it gets them a lot cleaner, and they smell so much better. It is almost as good as hanging them out on a clothesline.” And so the stage was set for the renewed laundry dispute. After several years of festering, Lois decided that she would settle this difference once and for all, forever, and never again ever have to deal with it any more. Finished. Finally. Terminated.
Lois believed she had a plan that was foolproof. What’s more, she had an ability to accumulate a mountain of evidence on the rightness of her opinion, and the fundamental flaw in Gertrude’s position. Gertrude was just wrong, and Lois was going to establish it beyond any question.
The plan was quite simple and straightforward. Every piece of clothing for all the folks in the family processed through the laundry, assuming, of course, that it made it to the laundry. Some didn’t. For those that arrived for a washing, she checked the label. If it said “Do not use Clorox”, “No bleach” or similar words, she cut the label out and threw it in a box. She was diligent, and thorough, and persistent in her search for labels. Indeed, she found, almost every label declared the manufacturer’s suggestion to avoid Clorox. From her friends and associates she solicited similar labels, so many folks were collecting labels for her, as well. She accumulated hundreds of manufacturer’s labels, and through the weeks, months, and years, with the help of her friends and neighbors, she filled a box with these labels. It was an awesome collection of hard evidence. After three year of collecting, Lois was pleased.
The only thing remaining was the next visit of the in-laws, and the most opportune moment for convincing Gertrude that she was dead-wrong. Lois planned her strategy like stalking wild prey, catching Gertrude at a weaker moment, out in the open, when she was most vulnerable. One could anticipate Lois doing a victory dance, much like a big game hunter in Africa. After bagging an elephant, she poses, elephant gun in hand, and smiles as the photographer clicks a dozen shots of the victory. She removes the tusks, attaches them to a massive board, and mounts them above the fireplace, a constant reminder of her greatest victory. A brass plaque below the tusks says:
Mother of all Laundry Disputes
At just the right moment during Gertrude’s next visit, the conversation inevitably migrates to the laundry. Lois had stashed the box of labels nearby for ready access. On the mention of laundry, Lois jumped immediately into the fray.
“Gertrude, I want to show you something,” Lois said. “I have a box of things you really need to examine carefully.”
With that, she dumps the boxful of labels out onto the table in front of Gertrude. There were hundreds, if not thousands of labels, representing hours of diligent effort.
In a style fitting the Wicked Witch of the West, Gertrude glanced casually at the pile, then pushed them back toward Lois with a final epitaph:
“Nobody pays any attention to these,” Gertrude pronounced, dashing forever three years of hard work by Lois and friends.
With these simple words, Gertrude established beyond any doubt the powerful resolve of a mother-in-law who would rather fight than switch.
“How is this possible,” Lois thought. “How is it possible to casually ignore a boxful of perfectly compelling evidence.”
She had not finished the laundry issue! Indeed, she may even have given it new life. In total frustration, Lois found it necessary to tell the story hundreds of times over the next few decades, and to her dismay, the winner’s trophy never appeared over the fireplace. Instead of the winner’s trophy, she received a consolation prize with an alternate brass plaque that proclaimed:
One Good Excuse
Is more powerful than a
Box Full of Evidence.
(and a whole lot easier)