I wanted her to love me, of course. After all, she was Colin's elegant mother. But my pots were never scrubbed enough, especially not when I was in charge of our efficiency college apartment and far more worried about Dostoevsky than about pots. And, while Colin cussed freely 98% of the time, when she came to visit, he had it under control. I didn't and carelessly let a four-letter word slip once in her presence. Other than that, I was on my best behavior, and still, she wouldn't warm up to me. Though she did sew me a pretty dress for Christmas one year, and I gave her my second set of inherited amber beads. I wonder what became of them.
Finally, one day my sister-in-law explained it to me. It wasn't about pots and pans or four-letter words. It was about the trip we took together before our wedding, my future mother-in-law, my future father-in-law, Colin, my then-fiancé, and I.
It was one of those old-fashioned hotels in Europe where the shared toilet was down the hall, though we did have a sink with cold running water in the room. It was the last room available, and we took it happily. She was the first one all ready for bed, and she chose the bed closest to the door. She was leafing through a magazine while waiting for the rest of us to get ready. My fiancé meanwhile had plunked down on the other double bed by the window. I had just put on my pajamas in a screened corner of the room and had finished brushing my teeth and was ready to get in bed as well. And suddenly I had to make a choice. Which bed? My future father-in-law was wandering around with his own toothbrush in his mouth, looking out of the window. Maybe that should have been my clue. We had not discussed sleeping arrangements. There was a fifty-fifty chance I would get it right. My reasoning was that my future in-laws belonged together, so they should share a bed. Also, Colin and I were going to be married soon anyway, and clearly none of the four of us were going to participate in any passionate activities with everybody else in the same room. So, I lay down next to Colin. A minute later, my future father-in-law lay down next to his wife. We all said goodnight.
It was the wrong choice. She thought I had disrespected her and never forgave me. She never said a word, not to me anyhow. She was always polite. And frosty. All three of them are long gone now. Recently I found a bundle of letters my father-in-law had written to her from the war, in which he joyfully remembered making love with her without benefit of marriage which didn't take place until years later. It made me smile, and I still wish she would have loved me.