No one would have put the two of us together. One from the streets of Brooklyn, NY, the other from the southern and Midwestern states of KY, TN, and MO. Right out of a weird romance novel, you could have titled us, “Southern Girl Marries Northern Boy.
Culture clash does not begin to describe the challenges I faced when I moved to Staten Island, NY in the fall of 2000. Belief it or not, there is a different “lingo” in the north, than in the south. There was no “twang” with in ear shot, and there certainly would be no country fried, chicken and dumplings this corn-fed girl grew up on.
I learned new words for food.. gabagool (capicola, a salty lunch meat), galamad (calamari), sauce (Italian sauce which does NOT include meat; that is called gravy), macaroni (includes ALL pasta, NOT macaroni and cheese), spadenas (thinly sliced veal, rolled with sauce and bread crumb, then fried) and the list could continue.
I learned a new word for traffic, if you could call it that, “a parking lot”. Small, southern town, one light traffic does not come close to the five lane, congestion attempting to move through the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn. Driving was taking your life in your own hands, and boisterous, comical, and food does not come close to describing my new in-law family.
I think my brother-in-law, Pete, described it best when he gave our wedding speech to the tune of, “One day I will have to explain to your very confused children why there are no cows in Brooklyn and no subways in Carthage.” My sister-in-law, Fran, swore our children were going to say, “What’z up, ya’ll”. And my then young, toddler niece, Samanatha, never tired of encouraging my father-in-law, Pete, “Papa, make fun of Aunt Coly.” He would then put on his best “southern accent” and pretend to talk like me. Samantha thought this was hysterical, and truth be told, it actually is funny.
I think what caught me the most off guard was the living arrangements. My in-laws lived with my father-in-laws parents and had been for thirty-three years by the year 2000. Taking care of Tommy’s grandparents, helping them with their day to day needs, did not limit my in-laws to also caring for my mother-in-law, Roe’s, mother affectionately called “Red Hair”. Red Hair was living with my in-laws since 1992 when her husband, Michael, had died. She has passed on to be with the Lord since then, but after almost twenty years of caring for her, the story of Ruth and Naomi came to mind.
I have written in regards to my in-laws before. In Book 2, I describe Naomi and the love Ruth had for her mother-in-law, but also the pain and hurt of losing a loved one. Now, describing Ruth, I could think of no one better to describe a love for extended family than Pete and Roe, Tommy’s parents.
Ruth was a gentile woman, who had lost her husband, Naomi’s son.
Naomi’s sadness was overwhelming, for she had not only lost one son, but her husband and another married to a woman known as Orpah. Having lost her husband and sons, one daughter-in-law holds onto her mother-in-law refusing to leave her. So bitter, saddened and depressed is Naomi she wants her name changed to Mara encompassing the bitter feeling she is experienced, the dark depression of losing all those you have loved. Ruth profusely declines to leave the woman she has fallen in love with. This maternal figure has been all she has known for some time, her heart loves as if this woman had given birth to her as her own mother. Ruth, loving, kind and generous, rejects and rebuffs her mother’s intentions of walking alone (Ruth 1). She insistently expresses her love and claims Naomi as her own mother.
I have known my in-laws for sixteen years now. I have learned a valuable lesson of what dedication, adoration, respect, and true love is all about. See, my in-laws took care of Red Hair for a total of twenty years. She lived with them, ate with them, traveled with them, and relied upon them for medical treatment. Obviously there were times of frustration, irritation and aggravation, but the love exceeded those nuisances.
I watched my father-in-law, Pete, tie Red Hair’s shoes for her, help her up and down from couches, stairs, cars, outings, and more. I have seen them joke and laugh, played card games and solitaire together. I have seen them consult each other on dinner menu’s for the day and week, jokingly making fun of how much each one ate. Sadly, a fall for an elderly grandmother can be fatal.
After nineteen years of a daughter and son loving their mother, Red Hair was taken to a hospital the last year of her life. Every day for one year, 365 days, my mother-in-law walked to see her mother. Every day sat and talked with her and the nursing staff. Everyday she walked, cold, rain or shine, she would not leave her mother alone. This is the epidemy of Ruth. The love and command expressed in God’s Word, honor your mother and father (Exodus 20:12)
Ruth was a woman who would not leave another behind.
Ruth opened her heart to love, care, and devote her life to a despaired woman. Sadly today’s generation does not look toward their elderly, parents or grandparents in this way. The words burden, annoyance, disturbance and irritation are the labels giving to the elderly. Paul tells Timothy in the last days, children will be disrespectful towards their parents, lovers of themselves, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, without love, not lovers of good, rash and proud (2 Timothy 3:1-5). I read this list and we all can see how it finger points to our society and culture’s immediate gratification, self seeking, pleasure-only-please world.
I pray I have the ability to take care of all my parents. I pray when one may lose another I open my arms to them, for I choose not to store up “stuff” where rust and moth destroy, but serve as Christ came to serve. I do understand the inability to care for a loved one with medical needs that only a hospital can administer. But if the “burden” of your parents, boils down to a heart issue and not a physical issue, then here lays the problem. My prayer for you is to put yourself in the place of the one alone, of course that requires an act of empathy many choose to ignore. I also pray that when I myself am of age to maybe lose my own spouse, my children will love me as Ruth loved Naomi