My mother-in-law, Annette Molar, turned 90 on Oct. 2. The following weekend we joined much of the extended family in her hometown, Columbus, Ohio, to help celebrate this milestone.
Carol’s sister, Marilyn, and her husband, Alan, were the local hosts. They couldn’t have been more gracious, and it was a pleasure to see everyone. For one reason or another, none of them very good, I had not seen many of them for years; I had never seen most of the children.
Annette was to spend Saturday afternoon at Alan and Marilyn’s while family visited in staggered groups. Carol and Elizabeth’s job was to help her get ready. Bobby and I spent the morning replacing the laptop and glasses he lost when his backpack was stolen on the way to the airport (long, expensive story).
When we got to the house, Annette was already there, very much the center of attention, still very charming, despite losing a step or two over the years. Her memory isn’t what it once was. She has a walker, although from the way she was getting around the house without it, it may have been a dodge to get handicapped parking.
The family didn’t seem to be staggering their visits so much as coming early and hanging around. It was a half hour before I had a chance to approach her. She greeted me with bright eyes and a big smile.
“Well, hi! You sure put on weight!”
I have, and she remembered.
“I mean, you were never ‘thin,’ thin, but – it’s so good to see you!” she beckoned, and I leaned over to kiss her. Some great-grandchildren ran up to her with some toy, and that was that for a while. Short and sweet, frank, all cards on the table, everything Annette has always been. It made me smile, and it took me right back to the first time we met, which is still one of my most vivid memories.
It was late on a Friday night, early in my relationship with Carol. I made the tactical error of falling hopelessly in love with her despite significant differences in our backgrounds. For example, she had a healthy relationship with her mother. They saw each other, voluntarily. Carol had never broken a phone hanging up on her mom. It was unfathomable.
Carol warned Annette that we would be arriving late, so she instructed us to let ourselves in, and she would see us in the morning. As we opened the door, though, we were immediately met with a voice from the top of the stairs.
“I’m asleep. I’m not coming down. You’re late.”
“I said midnight. It’s only eleven.”
“Were you speeding? I’m not coming down. How was the drive?”
“Fine. Go back to bed.”
“I am,” she said as she came down. She was 5 feet nothing in fuzzy-slippered feet, zip-up housecoat and whatever those things are that women of a certain age wear to protect that sculpted spun sugar look when they’ve ‘just had their hair done.’
“You must be Mike,” she said.
“Please like me,” I said in my head. Out loud, it sounded something like, “Huhyeah, pleesameyah.”
“Well I hope you’re not hungry, because I wasn’t expecting to feed anybody tonight.”
“Mom, we’re really tired. We should go straight to bed.”
“Well, that’s good because there’s nothing here. I was going to shop in the morning.” Annette shouldered Carol aside and continued to apologize as she set the table and produced a brisket, kugel, vegetables, a salad (yes, she made a salad), and a layer cake protected by plastic wrap with strategically placed toothpicks keeping it off the frosting.
“This was supposed to be for tomorrow,” she said meaningfully. I could eat it and ruin her plans or not eat it and insult her baking. In the house 10 minutes, and already I was behind the eight ball. Finally, she slid into a chair next to me and across from Carol.
“So, Mike,” she said, staring at Carol, “Do you smoke?” At the time, I did not. Carol did.
“No. No, I do not, Mrs. Molar.”
“Annette. How do you feel about smoking?” she continued, boring a hole in her daughter with her eyes.
“Well, I suppose – “
“Don’t you think it’s stupid?”
I may have fainted at this point. I’m not sure. The rest of the weekend is a pastiche of bright, blurry images separated by long periods of darkness, like passing a series of local subway stops when you’re on an express train.
I can’t guarantee that the above is verbatim, but it’s a pretty good approximation. I remember the incident with great affection, as I experience my entire relationship with this feisty, funny woman who would do anything to support her children, from embarrassing one in front of the BF to get her to quit smoking, or welcoming a guy with crazy ideas and no visible means of support into her family.
She hasn’t always made my life more comfortable, but she has always made it better. She has made a lot of lives better. It was overwhelming to see what she has built as four generations converged from all over the country to tell her they love her. Happy 90th, Annette. Mom.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.