by Lindsay Hardin Freeman

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW, GERTRUDE, was one of the kindest people I’ve known. When she stayed with us, she swept the patio every morning. She wiped down the counters and sink every night after dinner. She said she couldn’t do a lot, but she could do those things. One day she held our newborn son as he slept in her arms for three hours. I didn’t know much about being a mother at first, but she sang to our babies, reminding me of the sweet voice of song.

My own mother had died when I was 11. I’d sworn I would never call someone else “Mom.”

But I did, for my mother-in-law was so dang nice to me.

One day, when I was about seven months pregnant, I made a casserole for dinner. When I tasted it, I knew it was bad. It was like dead fish, moldy kale and rotten tomatoes all mixed together. Eyeing her across the table, I knew I had her. Even though she was always complimentary about what I cooked, I knew that, finally, that wall would come down.

She took a first bite. I saw her wince. She took a second bite. Just when I thought her kindness would finally crack, she smiled at me.

“Why, this is…this is…so WARM!” she said.

Warm. Well, she was right about that, for it had just come out of the oven. Temperature was the only positive trait it had. She had found that one thing—and praised it. God bless her for that.

And God bless her for being an extra hand with the kids. My older son cried for four months after he was born. He had about 30 good minutes each morning, lying in the sun and moving his hands to trap the sunbeams. But then he cried for the other 23 ½ hours, unless he was nursing, sleeping, riding around or being carried upside down like a football on my arm. He saw a lot of the floor in those early days (which might account for why he is an introvert today).

Gertrude would also go grocery shopping with me when she was in town. I picture her now, white-haired, panting and running the shopping cart up and down the aisles to keep her grandson from crying. It still makes me smile. She tried so hard.

She loved all of us, I know. But as mothers do, she particularly treasured her son, Len. This was very clear the day our family visited Canobie Lake Park, an amusement park in southern New Hampshire. Len asked me if I wanted to ride the Yankee Cannonball, the oldest wooden roller-coaster in America.

Was he kidding? I’m such a wimp. About heights. About caves. About lots of things. Alone, he headed for the ride. Several minutes later, I turned around to chat with Mom, but she had disappeared.

And then, looking over the crowds, I spotted her familiar hunched-over form, back curved but chin high, clutching her black purse under her arm, following her son. She was close to 80 years old at that point. She’d had two heart attacks. She’d broken two ribs by simply turning her head and shoulders while backing her car out of the garage. But she was going on that ride. She remembered the joy she had riding it as a girl—and this time, she would be with the one she loved the most.

I think she figured there were worse ways to die. If her heart gave way on the ride, so be it. As she got off, she had one thing to say: “It was a chance to ride with my son.” God bless you, Mom. God bless you for being kind to me, for raising the son you did and for showing us how to ride the heights with those we love.

The Rev. Lindsey Hardin Freeman is an Episcopal priest and the author of Bible Woman: All Their Words and Why They Matter

This article is from the May/June 2022 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.