Sunday, October 22, 2006

Meeting the In-Laws: Mother In Laws Are No Joke

The part of Michigan that Ash is from reminds me a great deal of the part of Ohio that my aunt's farm is in. The same not-quite flat terrain, the same country roads lined with the same houses and small farms. There were even lots of soybean fields, just like the ones that surround (and make up part of) my aunt's farm. I actually slept through a lot of the drive from MSU, and Ash woke me up with about 15 minutes to go so that I could de-groggify and run a brush through my hair.

I was especially nervous about meeting Ash's mother, not because she's a bad person, or anything like that, but because, well, there must be a reason why there are so many mother-in-law jokes, right? Ash places such a high value on his family relationships, and I really wanted to get our relationship off to a good start. I must admit that I'd planned my wardrobe very carefully, asking myself exactly which sweater says "This is a lovely woman who will make my son happy, and who we would be thrilled to have in our family". Those carefully planned outfits were scuttled by the very cold weather, so I was wearing the only warm sweater I'd brought, which meant I couldn't really obsess over it the way I would have had I had a choice of sweaters. So I obsessed over my hair instead, fussing over the minor flattening caused by the very cute red hat I'd been wearing for our walk around the MSU campus. And then we were turning onto a street and into a driveway and we were there and the herd of butterflies in my stomach took off en masse.

Ash's stepfather came out to meet us as we walked in the door, and we made small talk for a few minutes before Ash's mom came in and joined us. In a stroke of good timing, we'd arrived just after they both got home from work, and after a short bit of "hello, how are you, nice to meet you, how was the drive?", we all piled into the car and headed out to dinner.

The drive took me through part of the actual town and I got my first real look at Ash's hometown. It's a small town. A really small town. I can't really wrap my mind around the idea of living in a small town. I grew up in a city, I live in a city now, and even though I lived in a couple of small towns in Germany, they were so connected to the areas around them that they seemed like part of the nearby large cities. My cousins grew up in an even smaller town, and I remember when the cousin closest to me was in high school, she was very into "cruising". I was (and still am) utterly mystified as to how someone could be so excited about the idea of driving a half hour to the next larger town so that you could spend two or three hours slowly circling the same two blocks, sipping on milkshakes from the local Rax's. I cannot conceive of a high school class where it's actually feasible to know everyone-- there were about 700 students in my graduating class.

As we drove through town, Ash's mom and stepdad kept up a steady stream of chatter, telling stories about things that were happening in town, occasionally asking us questions, and I started to relax. I am terrible at small talk, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was not to have to slog my way through awkward silence and stilted conversation. I don't know if they were conscious of it, but I cannot begin to express how grateful I was that I could just kind of ease into the flow of the talk, joining the family talk naturally. We ate at one of those timeless family restaurants that you find all over the country, in small towns and big cities alike, where the decor, menu, and clientele remain unchanged over decades. Ash had been talking about fried chicken from this place for weeks before the trip, and the family style chicken dinner was the special of the day, so of course that's what we ordered, and we ate and talked our way through the rest of the daylight. Apparently his family has a long history of eating at this particular restaurant, and they've got lots of memories of family dinners there. I really liked the idea that I was in a place and sharing an experience that played a large role in Ash's own childhood experience, like getting a window into the boy he'd been and how he's come to be the wonderful man that he is now.

Then it was back home for Ash's birthday cake and big glasses of milk, sitting out in the sunroom, laughing at the story of how their neighbors' dog got stuck in their backyard after it wandered in when the lawn cutters came while Ash's mom and stepdad were on vacation, and accidentally got locked in. After the sitcom-worthy rescue mission staged by the neighbors, which involved an eight year old scaling the fence and boosting the very fat beagle over to her waiting mother, the dog is apparently afraid to come over now.

It's funny, because the more I was around Ash's stepdad, the more he reminded me of my own father. He has many of the same mannerisms, and makes many of the same corny jokes. He works hard in a factory job, putting in too many hours so that he can do nice things for the people he loves. He doesn't have the formal degrees or education or certifications, but when something breaks or goes wrong, he's the person they call to fix it, and he'll get it up and running, even if his methodology doesn't match what it says in the training manuals. And his mom, although utterly different in personality from my own mother, could have been part of my own family as well-- maybe another of my mother's sisters. In fact, if my mother had her druthers, I'd bet her house would look eerily similar to what Ash's mom has done with her own house-- except there would be rabbits everywhere instead of owls. And when we ended the evening watching "Deal or No Deal"-- which happens to be my own family's current obsession-- I felt like I'd wandered into a new branch of my own family.

We were, however, utterly shocked to find that we'd been put into the same room. I'd been warned-- and expected, honestly-- that we'd be sleeping in separate rooms. When we go to visit my parents, I assure you that will be the case. In fact, we'll be on separate floors, though that's actually due to the way the bedrooms are placed in the house, not so much to my parents' house rules. And I was perfectly okay with that, because first of all, when you are a guest in someone's home, you conduct yourself according to their house rules, and second, I'm a little weirded out by the idea of sort of... displaying our sexuality around relatives. I mean, it's not like we were announcing that we wanted to go off and do the nasty together, but sleeping in the same bed carries a certain assumption with it, you know? So I was a little weirded out by that, and I'm certain that I turned a rather deep shade of pink. I wonder if I'll feel the same way after we're married, especially at my parents' house. I mean, we'll be "legit" then, so really it shouldn't be a big deal, but I suspect that it will be.

The one thing I think I'd love about living in a small town is the silence. The constant noise of traffic and other people makes me uneasy, which is what I hated most about the place I lived with Hulio when we first moved to Our Fair City. My current place is mostly very quiet, though the occasional train or bus can be heard, and my downstairs neighbor occasionally plays Cher very, very loudly (thankfully only for a short time), while my upstairs neighbor walks like an elephant when she's home (thankfully not usually when I'm home). The utter silence of nighttime in the countryside was so restful and soothing, especially after the long work week I had just finished. I slept better than I had in days, feeling so very relieved that The Meeting, Version 1.0 had gone so much better than I'd dared hope. The Meeting, Version 2.0, was on the agenda for the next day, when we were scheduled to move on to Ash's dad's place.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home