Papers, Please?

Since the passing of my mother-in-law on March 1st, my Beloved and I have sifted and sorted through the tangible mementos she left behind. There are photographs and slides aplenty, so I set myself to digitizing as many as possible to add to our (informal) family archive.

My mother-in-law with her mother-in-law, about 1948

Scanning the vast collection of photos/slides, etc. required lots of time … and I’m not finished yet! What’s more, the stack of photos seemed to multiply every time we opened another box! My initial enthusiasm diminished as the number of digital images grew and my eagerness took an unexpected turn to frustration.

I had a nagging sense something was missing. But what?

In my mind, the possibility of a personalwritten memoir (or several, if fortune smiled) would help flesh out an understanding of my mother-in-law that forty-seven plus years of being her daughter-in-law had not achieved. By digging deeper, I thought to solve the mysteries of Inscrutable Daisy.

But we’d unearthed only a few written records. There were a couple hastily-written notes, brief attempts at compiling a personal narrative. I’d expected more, hoped for more – at least a journal or two and perhaps a collection of letters from the time my father-in-law served overseas during World War II.

Zip. Zero. Nada.

As my digitizing has progressed, so has my understanding. A written journal describing events and reactions, emotions and perceptions? That kind of synopsis represents my way of making sense of the world – but not hers.

When author Gary Chapman’s relational model of “love languages” came to mind, it provided a helpful clue. No question, my mother-in-law had a distinct love language! Given Chapman’s five categories, I believe Charlotte expressed her love through acts of service.

Specifically, my mother-in-law demonstrated her predominant love language through the planning, preparation and serving of wonderful, scrumptious meals. On numerous occasions I can recall, she’d start the day by serving a splendid breakfast and, as soon as dishes were cleared from that meal, she’d begin preparations for lunch … then onto dinner. She was truly in her element when she could keep her family, friends and guests satisfied and well-fed.

As I casually leafed through a recipe book from her vast collection, however, I discovered the expression of her love language went far beyond simply being perceived as the “perfect” hostess … I recognized (for the first time) this was her passion!

The image above is one random page taken from one random volume of her collected recipes, but there are many such pages. Almost every recipe book contains extensive marginal jottings and addenda, reflecting how intensely she studied her art.  If I may describe it this way, there’s a deep, devotional quality about the handwritten notes and comments appended to her recipe books.

Indeed, notations recall certain events, i.e. “served this for church circle” followed by a particular date. Similar notations abound. Other remarks concentrate on family likes and dislikes, i.e. “Yuck, Max hated this!” or “good dish for the grandkids.”  Even though the inscriptions lack continuity over multiple volumes and disconnected time periods, their personal nature reads … like a diary, a love-language memoir to the people she cherished, blessing them with countless acts of service and devotion.

My mother-in-law’s “paper trail” – so utterly unique – might have remained undiscovered. Because I rarely use recipe books, my initial inclination was to trash (or donate) the collection. I’m grateful I took a closer look. I have a keener appreciation for her.

As to acts of service, I readily acknowledge her greatest:  the lifelong affection and maternal constancy showered on her sons, one of whom is my Beloved. He is my dearest companion and friend these last 48 years and I am ever in her debt.

Renée