A few weeks ago, my mother in law Norma Hart was honored by her Church for her years of service to the parish community of St. Francis. The parish has a wonderful choir and the community wanted to raise some money for its section leaders; professional singers who receive a monetary stipend for their participation in services and other parish events. As such, the community came together, enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and encouraged donations through numerous live auction items. Music is a big part of my mother in law’s life; she plays many different instruments and even put herself through school by teaching lessons. When the parish community decided to hold an event raising money for its music program it was only natural that they consider honoring my mother in law as part of the festivities.
During the cocktail reception, I asked if there would be an opportunity for anyone in the family to say a few words about my mother in law. I couldn’t imagine them saying no and assumed that my eldest brother in law Pete would be the one to say some words about his mother. When he said, “Well maybe if I had more time to prepare…”I knew that the good idea I had was now going to be my responsibility. There was only one small problem; like Pete I had nothing prepared. At this point, though, I could not say no as, after all, it was my idea.
I went off in the corner for a minute and took some time to think about my mother in law and all the things that one could possibly say about her. I then did what anyone else would do; checked my Facebook page to take my mind off of the problem at hand. A priest who I am connected to on Facebook posted a reflection on Pentecost which was to be celebrated the following day; for those of you not in the know Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ’s followers after His ascension into heaven. In my friend’s post he referenced the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit that we believe are bestowed upon us during the sacrament of Confirmation. I then had the idea to talk about the 7 gifts of Norma Hart.
A few people have asked me for a written version of what I said that night; the problem is, I never wrote it down. What follows below comes from memory. While it may not be 100% of what I said, I can assure you of one thing – all of it is true.
If you turn on the TV, there is a certain stereotype about a mother in law. Take The Honeymooners and its animated offshoot the Flintstones or, in more recent times, Everybody Loves Raymond and you might get the idea that a mother in law is an overbearing person to be feared or, worse, loathed. This is unfortunate for many reasons but for me personally it is especially unfortunate because it is the exact opposite way I feel about my mother in law Norma Hart.
Tomorrow is the feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the Holy Spirit descending on the community of believers after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus into Heaven. If the memories I have of my religious formation are correct, there are 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. As such, tonight I believe it is appropriate to talk about the 7 gifts of Norma Hart.
- Cookies. Anyone who knows my mother in law knows that she loves to bake and cookies are one of her specialties. I met Nicole at college in 1992 and her mother sent her a care package including chocolate chip cookies. Anyone who has ever tasted them knows what I mean – they are simply delicious and part of the reason my waistline has expanded over the past 20 years.
- Music. Part of the reason we are all here is to raise money for the music program at St. Francis. As most of you know, music is near and dear to my mother in law’s heart. When I was working from home my mother in law would always ask me if her playing the piano would bother me and I would give her the same answer every time, “No.” Still, she always asked. I loved hearing the sounds of the piano float down the stairs and enter the home office where I would work when I was not traveling.
- Generosity. My mother in law is one of the most generous people I know. She is generous with her time and loves to spend it with her grandchildren. Norma is also generous financially when anyone is in need so mom, thank you so much for your generosity. As an an aside, when Nicole and I were dating, I always referred to my mother in law as Mrs. Hart. When we finally got engaged, mom said, “I hope now that you are engaged you will call me something other than Mrs. Hart. Gordon, without missing a beat added, “You can still call me Mr Hart.” (As an aside, calling someone else Mom is not natural but over time calling Norma Mom became very easy as I do feel she is a second mother to me).
- Blankets. My mother in law has knitted blankets for all of her grandchildren and my three have not gone a night without Mr. Snuggles, Pinky, or Shmookie since the day they were born, and they are 12 now. When they were in the NICU after being born 9 weeks early, these blankets were draped over their incubators keeping them warm and keeping grandma close to them. Those blankets mean more to our children than anything that could ever be purchased for them all because they were made from love.
- Her Family. The Hart Family and the in laws (or out laws as Karen and I like to say) is a very tight group. We stick by each other in good times and in difficult times and can go to each other for help. The family that Norma raised is a strong one and a great gift to me personally; especially her daughter.
- Her eagerness to discuss the most recent movie she saw with Joanne. My mother in law loves seeing movies as well as going to performances at Curtain Call. Joanne frequently joins her on these outings and my mother in law loves to come home and speak about the movie or musical in detail. I enjoy these chats as I am a movie buff but rarely get to see anything besides something the kids want to see.
- For everything she has done for us and our family. Except for those brief periods when we have gone on vacation, my mother in law has seen my children almost every day of their lives and that is a gift that I know they will cherish forever and I can’t tell you how much that means to me.
Note, at this point I started to lose my composure because earlier in the day our movers came to start packing us for our move to California the following week. I knew that one of the things I cherished so much about living with my mother in law was going to be missed heavily, namely the chance to see her with my children every day. The hardest part of our move has been missing my mother in law, the smell of cookies baking in the oven, and the sounds of the piano coming down the stairs.
My mother in law is a truly wonderful and remarkable person so, in retrospect, the fact that these thoughts came to me as quickly as they did isn’t all that surprising. I am not great about expressing myself with spoken words but am glad that I could share my feelings towards my mother in law before we made the move to California. If any of you are touched by the sentiments expressed here I ask that you consider thinking of someone who means a lot to you and telling them how you feel. Don’t put it in an email, don’t type it in a text, and don’t post it to their Facebook wall. Talk to them, tell them how you feel, and tell them that you love them. Our time here is too short to take any of our relationships for granted.