Family

WHAT MY MOTHER IN LAW TAUGHT ME

These are some of the things I know to be true about my mother-in law:

  • She believed without a doubt that her four sons were perfect.  And even if they weren’t, she never said otherwise in public.    
  • She taught me to set up the coffee maker in the evening so all you had to do was push a button in the morning.
  • The definition of a 1950’s era lady, she wore her Revlon Moonrise Pink lipstick at all times.  Like most of us, she was never fully satisfied with her hairdo.  

 

 

 

  • Her signature saying, “It only takes a minute,” applied as equally to doing four loads of laundry or whipping up a steak dinner, as it did to driving from Detroit to New York to visit her grandchildren. 
  • It was her personal philosophy to never say a bad word publically about other people. 
  • Homemade chocolate chip cookies were her calling card.  They had verifiable magic powers to change the course of an illness, heal a broken heart, brighten up a new home, refresh a friendship, thank people, wish a Merry Christmas or just simply say “hi.”  To know Frannie Woodruff was to have eaten one of her ultra thin and crispy chocolate chips, the secret of which she liberally shared — extra butter and cake flour.
  • She was an early convert to “transition” glasses, which meant her Jackie-O size  lenses were usually a shade of dark purple, even when indoors.  Although her sons teased her, I now realize it was a clever way to have “eyes in the back of her head.”
  • No matter what she ordered at a restaurant (usually Fettuccine Alfredo), when it came, 90% of the time, before she even tasted it, she remarked that she should have ordered what we did.
  • I’ve tried to imagine all the places she went in the pairs of white and black formal gloves that she gave to my daughters for dress-up, including one elegant opera length kid leather pair smelling faintly of smoke.
  • She knew bank tellers, grocery clerks, pharmacists, hairdressers, T.J. Maxx employees and just about everyone else by their first names.
  • Raising four boys in the 70’s who played every sport imaginable, she inexplicably cooked only one package of frozen corn at dinner, causing them to develop a lifelong habit of eating too fast.

 

 

  • She knew the names of every one of our neighbors in all of the cities we ever lived and kept up with some of them—adding them to her Christmas card list– long after we’d moved.
  • She worshipped butter, whole milk, and cream sauces.  Her sister Lynnie bought a framed poster of a stick of butter and Frannie coveted it so much that she dragged Lynn to every Homegoods store in the greater Detroit metro area looking for its duplicate.  In the end—they agreed to share it.
  • She could not have told you what NPR stood for and did not listen to it.
  • She danced the Charleston like she had rubber bands for legs and enthusiastically taught my children how.
  • She was an avid reader of mass-market fiction.  We both shared a secret love of Sidney Sheldon.
  • Bob and I moved to nine places in 25 years of marriage (seven were domestic) and she was physically there for all seven.   In each house she would unfailing set up the kitchen (my version of plunging toilets after an intestinal virus) and unpack boxes with me from dawn until long after the kids went to bed.  I always gave up first.
  • She was such an enthusiastic and regular patron of TJ Maxx and Marshalls that on her 70th birthday, her local store had a nametag made for her.
  • She never spent a second worrying that she needed to fulfill herself, find her passion or broaden her horizons, and she could not have accurately defined the word “feminist.”  She was 100% happy being a wife, mother and the “World’s Best Grandma,” although she never would have worn the T-shirt out of the house.

 

 

  • Never once in my presence was she able to work the TV controller, program the VCR or operate the cable box.  She did, however, have a grasp on the volume button.
  • She set a gold standard, real life example of the word “devotion.”  Watching her move through the world, I learned many important things that go into the secret sauce of being a wife, mother and good girlfriend —  not just in the placid times, but when the going gets choppy.
  • She taught me you could drive a car with your left leg up on the console, a coffee cup balanced on the dashboard and the seat belt alarm circumvented by clever buckling.
  • She was the oldest sister of three girls (like me) and two brothers.  Watching her interact with her siblings was my preview for how that bond would further strengthen, long after the kids are grown and flown.
  • The famous story of Frannie — one Pappagallo shoe on the flank of their black lab as she extruded a long stream of black plastic garbage bag out of the dog’s butt (he had escaped and eaten a neighbor’s garbage AND the bag)  — became an iconic metaphor in our house for some event, issue or what-have-you that just won’t end.
  • Her cornflower blue eyes and signature dark “Dawson” brows and lashes were passed on to her lucky, lucky boys. (Why is it always the boys who get this gene?)
  • She was fortunate enough to die exactly the way she would have wanted — in her own home, in her own bed, surrounded by her devoted husband and her beloved boys, and the repeated assurances (not that she needed them) that she was the most loved, most wonderful Mom in the world.  And she was.

 

Rest in Peace Frances Dawson Woodruff – 1933 — 2013

 

www.leewoodruff.com   facebook.com/leemwoodruff   twitter@LeeMWoodruff 

 

19 Comments

  1. Megan Nguyen

    July 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    She sounds like a remarkable woman. This was beautifully written.

    RIP.

  2. Dawn Murphy

    July 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    A loving testament to a unique and wonderful woman, Sending you, Bob and the family loving support upon the loss of this magnificent woman., wife, mother and friend to many.

  3. Corey

    July 2, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Really beautiful Lee. I love that she had her boys with her at the end. God bless Frannie.

  4. Susan Dana Kennedy

    July 3, 2013 at 12:11 am

    You have exactly described my mother in law, Gerry Kennedy, who passed way too young in 1981. I have literally, absolutely every single day since. God bless you all in your healing and your memories..

  5. scott

    July 3, 2013 at 12:54 am

    loved every word!
    what a great tribute to an obviously wonderful woman…
    i'm so sorry for your loss.

  6. Molly

    July 3, 2013 at 1:20 am

    So sorry to hear about Franny. I always think of her when I pass by your old house on Hanover Avenue and remember her planting the pansies on the porch planters. She was Martha Stewart without the attitude who raised four amazing boys and probably didn't wear trousers until 1970. My thoughts are with you and the Woodruff family.

  7. Anita

    July 3, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Lee, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on your mother in law. Your memories and quips made me smile and feel like I had a small glimpse of this lovely woman. Our mothers and mother in laws were from a different generation, varying levels of outside interest and yet wife and mother were the roles they excelled at.

    Your words are kind and gentle, and I love reading what you write.

    I thought of you often this spring when I lost my dad, who had battled Alzheimer's disease, along with many other physical ailments. I thought of your essay about your dad many times.

    Take care, love on Bob and his family, and know you're thought of warmly.

  8. Carmen Dixon

    July 3, 2013 at 4:09 am

    What a lovely tribute to your mother-in-law, husband's devoted mother and beloved grandmother to your cbildren. How refreshing to read such wonderful words to describe one's "mother-in-law, which is so rare. You have given your family a marvelous gift that they will treasure and love you all the more for it.

  9. Shawn S. Sullivan

    July 3, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Simply beautiful Lee. Thank you for sharing. A loving tribute to her and those she loves so.

  10. Mary McManus

    July 3, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    What a beautiful tribute Lee. My deepest condolences to you and the family. Much love. Be sure to look for signs from her.

  11. Liz Weske

    July 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother in law- you had a special relationship for sure-in reading it- it reminds me of my own mother a bit- who was a housewife and mother of the 50's. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Ann McCooey

    July 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Thank-you for sharing this touching eulogy for your mother in law. You brought all of us into the her world. I could see the fight for corn!!! As a further tribute to her, could you share her chocolate chip cookie recipe?

    I hope that summer is wonderful and restoring.

  13. Joan Beaudoin

    July 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    I said something like this in response to Lee's original email, and I'll repeat it for her blog. After reading her books and these blog entries, we all feel as if we know her family members (and of course we don't) and their loss is something we can relate to. Many of us are of an age where we have or possibly soon will lose our parents, which lends another connecting thread. This was a beautiful window into the persona and personality of Frannie Woodruff. I'll bet lots of us wish we had known her, and I know for sure I envy Lee's ability to bring all that to life through the written word. Lee, thank you for sharing at a difficult time for all of you.

  14. Holly VanLeuven

    July 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Your mother-in-law was blessed to be so lovingly well-known by you!

  15. LisaSD

    July 5, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Wow! Reading this made me think of my own Mom and the standards she set and contributions she made. It was the way of her mother, too. And ultimately, I guess it is why I am the way that I am.

    Um, my sisters and I eat fast too… One little piece of meat to feed five people…didn't quite cut it. Perhaps that is why I always make too much food, so that is one trait that will NOT be passed on!

    Thanks for writing this. I feel as if I knew her without having met this amazing woman. She was blessed to have a daughter-in-law like you as I've read of YOUR devotion to your husband after his injuries. Bob has been lucky to have 2 great women in his life – may "Frannie" rest in peace knowing you are now at the helm now for her.

  16. Linda Sivertsen

    July 7, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Wow, Lee. I didn't know her, but wish I did. Your writing is stunning, as always. As the mom of only one child–a boy–I can only imagine how grateful she was for a daughter-in-law who saw her and honored her so completely! xx

  17. Lilli

    July 10, 2013 at 12:23 am

    Such a lovely tribute, the passing of a mom is tough, my condolences to you all.

  18. Dick McEvoy

    January 21, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Beautifully written Lee. I feel I know this Beautiful woman.

  19. Ceil harri

    January 22, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Loved your story, Lee. Thanks.
    You were lucky to have Your mother-in-law – fun, & caring . Your MEMORIES were ENJOYABLE to read.

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