What Maude Learned Too Late

My mother-in-law Maude was always certain she was right because of this list of wise sayings from her mother.
“You get more with honey than vinegar…what goes around comes around…”
No need to list any more of them. They’re all from Benjamin Franklin, Confucius or some other source forgotten in time. Any problem in life could be solved by one of them, and Maude was the first one to remind you of it.
Often I asked her why she thought I was wrong about everything.
“It’s not that I think you’re wrong. It’s just that I know that I am right.”
The rare instance when I was able to prove she was factually wrong and I was right and I asked why she corrected me anyway, she’d reply, “Well, I thought if I didn’t know you wouldn’t either.”
Of course, a sense of being right all the time can create an air of confidence and as we all know nothing succeeds in life more than having confidence. Her biggest success was as a bookkeeper because one and one are always two. She kept the books for the family coal company, and they always had the exact amount of money that Maude said they had. And I say this without sarcasm. Not knowing exactly how much money a business had caused a lot of bankruptcies and kept governments teetering on the brink of insolvency.
For myself, I know intellectually one and one equals two but putting it down on paper has always been the problem. It’s hard to concentrate on one and one when a pretty butterfly flutters by or I consider what happens when the wrong one tries to join to another wrong one. And what was I talking about in the first place?
Eventually Maude’s county elected her to be treasurer. This was in the 1980s when bank interest rates were double digits. She kept the county’s money in various short-term accounts with different banks, and every morning she called each bank to see what the going rates were. Then she transferred accounts to the best rate. She made her county several million dollars just by switching money around. The national association of county treasurers named her treasurer of the year. Not just of small population counties but of every county in the United States of America.
I could not, would not deny Maude this distinction and the achievement of making so much money without raising taxes, fees or penalties. I wish every politician could do that. And I’m sure Maude gave credit to one of her mother’s time-worn proverbs.
What I had trouble with was her translating her accomplishments into moral imperatives to impose her superior judgement onto how my wife Janet and I raised our children, ran our household and chopped onions. My wife Janet was smarter than I was. She was able to hide the pea of our lives as she shuffled the walnut shells right in front of her mother. I, on the other hand, was a terrible bamboozler. Everything I did was out for the entire world to see and criticize.
Maude lived a long and fruitful life. Wisely, her husband Jim became a federal coal mine inspector in his later years thereby insuring his wife had the best health insurance available as she endured several heart attacks. One cannot outsmart death forever, and eventually Maude entered Hospice and awaited the end from advancing coronary disease.
Despite how aggravated I was with how she treated my family and me, I openly admitted that this was the woman who gave birth to the woman who saved my life and gave me two wonderful children. Through the years I took her to her doctor appointments and was by her side as she went from being bed-ridden at home to many hospitalizations and finally to Hospice.
I sat next to her one day when she announced, “I’ve been going through all my mother’s sayings in my mind, and I can‘t think of one that applies right now. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do.”
The next day when I visited, her speech was slurred and she had trouble holding up her hands. She had a letter from back home and I read it to her. I asked if she remembered the person who wrote the letter. She feebly nodded her head.
The day after that I found her asleep, a rasping sound escaping her lips. After sitting next to her in silence, I looked out the window and commented that it was raining. When I turned back I noticed she had stopped breathing.
Despite what she said, I think Maude did know what to do. She just didn’t want to do it.

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