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Quilts and Mothers-in-Law

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 30, 2012

From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1959 –

Quilts and Mothers-in-Law

Mabel Law Atkinson

“Yes, I’m looking forward to having a daughter-in-law.” With a smile, Margaret Brandley answered the question put to her by one of the women quilting in the home of her friend, Midge Nelson.

It was Midge herself who shook her head and said, “Just wait till you have had one for three years. Honestly, sometimes I could take mine by the shoulders and shake her, the way she imposes on my son.”

“How does he feel about her treatment of him?” Margaret Brandley was still smiling.

“Oh, he’s too much in love with her yet to notice, but he will and then!

“If he has endured three years of it joyfully, he’ll weather the storms all right. but I doubt if storm clouds ever come. I mean dark and threatening ones,” Margaret continued. “They seem so well mated.”

“I just wish I had the chance to be a mother-in-law to a son’s wife.” Mild little Sarah Mather’s eyes filled as she spoke.

The women around the quilt were silent in sympathy, for they knew she was thinking of her only son, Mark, who had died somewhere in Korea.

It was Mrs. Swain, better known as Aunt Martha, who broke the silence by saying gently, “I think I know why Margaret has no qualms about being a mother-in-law and welcoming a new daughter or a son into her family, for I have been her next-door neighbor ever since she was married.” Then, speaking directly to Margaret, Martha suggested, “Why not tell us the reason you anticipate and get only joy from in-law additions to your family?”

“Do tell us, Margaret. We can quilt as we listen. I, for one, shall be grateful for all the help I can get in my new role. I so want Tom’s wife to keep on loving me.” It was quiet voiced Mary Anderson, whose son had been married but two weeks, who spoke.

“And do make a production of it. Then perhaps I can see what is wrong with my daughter-in-law, or with me.” Midge was smiling rather wryly.

Margaret smiled warmly at them all as she began, still stitching on the multi-colored quilt. “There’s really not much to tell. It just came to me that there is an analogy between this quilt and a mother-in-law. This quilt didn’t just happen, nor was its beauty achieved in a day or a week. Its tiny pieces weren’t placed haphazardly and sewed together any way. They follow a certain definite pattern which took time and conscious effort in the placing of each piece as to color harmony as well as design. Care had to be taken in cutting each piece accurately, so the seams would join perfectly.” Margaret turned to Midge and asked, “How long has it taken you to make this quilt top, and for whom are you making the quilt?”

“For myself. I’ve always wanted a sunburst pattern, and now, at last, I’m getting one.” Midge answered the last question first, then went on, “I’ve been working on it off and on for over a year. At times I’ve been so tired of it, I’ve felt like chucking it in the waste bag.”

“Why didn’t you, I wonder?” Margaret asked softly.

“Because I could see how beautiful it would be when finished,” was Midge’s answer.

“It is beautiful and altogether lovely and artistic. I recall the poet’s words, ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases …’”

“I hope so,” was Midge’s comment.

“So it is with a good mother-in-law and a son or daughter-in-law relationship,” Margaret continued. “Its loveliness increases as time passes, and little children weld the link stronger with their love and gentleness. But it takes much longer than a year to prepare to be a good mother-in-law. Much, much longer. The truth is, I began my preparation when my first child, a little daughter, was placed in my arms. As I lay looking at the tiny miracle of her, I prayed that someday she would know the same holy happiness I was experiencing, that she would be married to as worthy a man as her father. I knew that if she were to attain this joy, I must constantly, throughout the years, exercise all care to see that she developed in every way as a sweet, lovable, capable, and intelligent person, as a daughter of God, that she might attract the right type of men and choose for her husband a splendid young Latter-day Saint.

“As the years passed I found myself praying that some mother and father were training their son for her, as we were training our daughter for him. It was a joyous task and my formula has worked, for she married a man to whom it is easy to be a good mother-in-law. For over five years we have enjoyed a rewarding mother-son relationship.”

“That is wonderful, Margaret,” said Myrtle Eaton, who sat next to her. “You haven’t even needed to work specifically toward the desired result, have you? Not directly with your son-in-law, I mean?”

“Oh, yes, I think you would call some of the things I did working directly, but it has all been so natural that it hasn’t seemed like work at all. When Elna and Bob were engaged, I talked with Bob alone.” Margaret smiled as she continued, “I remember how solemn he looked when Elna left us, saying, ‘Mother has something to say to you, Bob.’ But he was soon at ease and smiling.”

“What on earth did you talk to him about? Did you tell him how you expected him to treat Elna?” Midge asked with a mixture of curiosity and incredulity in her voice.

“No, I didn’t even mention such a thing. I simply told him I had watched with approval the love developing between him and my girl and that I would be proud to welcome him into the family. I congratulated him on being a clean, intelligent, and industrious young man, a good Latter-day Saint, and told him he was getting a sweet, clean, and lovely Latter-day Saint wife in my daughter. That was about all. But through the years I have given him an orchid of praise whenever I have been especially thrilled over his achievements in his home with his family, in his work of making a living, and in his Church duties. Often for little things, like helping Elna by feeding the baby, bathing the two little boys, or just being kind and courteous always.”

“I hope you are as successful with your daughter-in-law.” Midge gave this comment feelingly.

“I’m sure I shall be, for I sort of picked out Susan for Peter before he had seen her.”

“Tell us all about it, my dear.” Loved Aunt Martha’s voice was low.

“I met Susan several months before Peter did. She came home with Bea – that’s my youngest – from college for a weekend. She was so gracious and lovely in every way that I found myself indulging in wishful thinking. I did something about it, too.

“The next summer when Peter came home on vacation, I had Bea invite her to go with us on a family picnic up the canyon. That was all I needed to do. Things progressed slowly but surely after their meeting, and now in two weeks I shall have a daughter Susan.”

“Just the reaping of the harvest from the seeds you’ve sown throughout your children’s lives,” spoke up Aunt Martha gently. “I’ve watched you, Margaret – with each one – teaching them to be sweet and wholesome and unselfish; training them to be happy and efficient little housekeepers, farmers, future wives and husbands, fathers and mothers. You have taught them the gospel, my dear, and made it a living force in their lives. You have done your job well.”

Margaret’s eyes caressed her neighbor lovingly and she answered, “Dear blessed Aunt Martha!” Then turning to Midge she concluded, “That is all there is to tell. Was it enough of a production?”

It was a thoughtful Midge who answered, “Yes, Margaret. It was wonderful. Thank you, dear friend. I’m starting years too late in some things, but I shall concentrate on loving and appreciating Lisbeth from now on, and as my beginning, I’ll give her this quilt when it’s finished.”



7 Comments »

  1. I hope to be that kind of MIL. Two of of my SILs have become MILs and they are so critical! Since I am half a generation behind I completely side with the DILs. I want to be generous and accepting of my SILs but it is difficult to be accepting when someone is critical of another person in the family.
    I see these two women thinking that no woman is good enough for their darling boy, as well as jealous that their son’s wife seems to get off easier than they used to because their sons pitch in with childcare and housework.
    I also see that they make no effort to see what their DIL is doing right. I see that they think a pregnant DIL lazy when she takes a nap and her husband makes her a sandwich, and I am very well aware that when my in laws think I am “taking a nap” chances are their precious brother is really pressuring me for some hot sex which honestly I am willing to give him but it actually does require effort and energy on my part especially since I am also caring for children but unfortunately I don’t get any credit for it from the in laws….they just wonder why I’m not helping to make dinner and thinking my husband is too nice to me because any son/brother who is nice to his wife and cares about her thoughts and feelings must be being taken advantage of, otherwise he would be controlling her and making her miserable like every wife should be.
    Seriously, my SIL told me she almost used me to criticize her DIL to her son and wanted to tell him “Your aunt was wondering why your wife doesn’t seem to take care of your daughter and you have to do it all.” Boy, did I stop her and tell her I fully supported and thought it was great that he helped take care of his daughter……considering she is pregnant, works full time and he is off work for the summer so should be the SAHD anyway………

    Comment by jks — July 30, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  2. Thanks for that, jks! Your comment illustrates, I think, how readers of the Relief Society Magazine would have responded to these stories and why they were published year after year.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  3. Oh, I love initials. It lets me rewrite comments so they make the most sense to me:

    “Two of my SIL [sons-in-law] have become MIL [mothers-in-law] and they are so critical.”

    Well, of course, if I became a mother-in-law I’d be an absolute pain in the backside–and I can’t blame those poor boys.

    But, back to the “story”: How do you spell didactic?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 30, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  4. You’re a pain in the backside sometimes, Mark, even if you haven’t become a mother-in-law! (You were asking for that, weren’t you?)

    You’re right about the didacticism, of course — sometimes it’s spelled “Q-u-i-l-t-s.” But that’s what I was getting at in my reply to jks: She responded to the issue being addressed by the story, ignoring shortfalls in literary quality, because the issue is a real one faced by her and others. A lot of the fiction in the Magazine is very thinly disguised moralizing concerning real problems in real women’s lives. It found its audience when it triggered reflection in readers who faced whatever challenge was discussed in the story. I love the way the Magazine had something for just about every LDS woman reader, whatever her tastes and interests, and I’m trying to mirror that by posting stories from the full range of styles and subjects covered by the Magazine.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

  5. When my sons don’t want to do dishes or clean house, and ask why they have to, I tell them that I want my daughters-in-law to love me. It took them a few years to figure it out, but they don’t argue.

    I like this moral.

    Comment by Carol — July 30, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

  6. Quilting culture: another topic worthy of a sustained study!

    Comment by Mina — July 31, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  7. I’m with Mina; I love quilts.

    I suppose I’ve been fairly lucky with my mother-in-law. She has many quirks, but I don’t believe that she is overly critical of me. Living 1,100 miles away also helps.

    Comment by HokieKate — August 1, 2012 @ 5:48 am

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