— Michael Jordan
Retired NBA Superstar
(b. Feb. 17, 1963)
Somewhere floating above on a puffy white cloud wearing her Green Bay Packers souvenir jersey, sipping on a small plastic bottle of Sunny D (her most favorite orange drink of all time) and reading a Zane Grey Western novel is my mother.
We lost her six years ago to cancer, but her memory remains as fresh as if we’d just talked on the phone yesterday.
She was a unique woman and quite rare by today’s standards. She loved football, adored going to the movies and crunching on buttered popcorn, and was one of the finest country cooks east of the Mississippi. But then, most Southern-born lads stake the same claim about their own moms. And that’s their right. Moms are endearing ladies. Always have been. Always will be; at least, in the minds of their sons.
As difficult as it is not to dedicate a Mother’s Day column to her on this her special day, I’ll do the next best thing. I’ll write about her counterpart, my mother-in-law. Mom would have wanted this because she always liked my in-laws. She used to tell me they are good people, a real salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar pair who worked as hard in life to raise their four kids as my parents did to raise three.
Their names are Billy Wade and Shirley Swindell. They call Greenfield their home, a tiny hamlet across the way in Northwest Tennessee not far from the University of Tennessee at Martin which is where I met their oldest daughter in the mid-1970s.
My in-laws have been married for about a hundred years. Early in their marriage they began to look a lot alike. Maybe even sooner. Now they’re twins. I used to write about them a lot during my first hitch at this newspaper in the late ’70s and the ’80s. They were always lovable fodder for a good column.
They still are. With hope, I will re-explore some of their adventures in months to come.
As a couple, they’re a hoot.
Individually, they’re even hootier. I assume that’s a word. If it’s not, it is now. We call it journalistic licensing in the newsroom.
But this is Mother’s Day. So Bill must wait his turn ... perhaps on Father’s Day. Today I pay tribute to Shirley, one of the greatest mothers-in-law ever placed on this planet. Certainly, she is the finest mother-in-law with whom I personally have ever shared a life. But then, I have had very few. Actually, just one. So by process of elimination, that makes her the best.
It’s funny how this generation of moms shares so much in common.
Mine was a great cook; my mother-in-law is just as great.
Mine worked hard in low-paying jobs her entire life; my mother-in-law has worked just as hard in roles ranging from waiting on tables to serving as primary caregiver for many years to “Pop,” her aging father whose past life was a novel waiting to be written.
Mine loved to read thick books of gripping fiction; my mother-in-law does as well though worsening vision has slowed her hobby.
Mine enjoyed night-time TV while taking a fancy to police and medical dramas; my mother-in-law still relishes the Neverland of the tiny screen but favors half-hour comedies like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike & Molly.”
Mine married right out of high school and began raising kids; my mother-in-law did the same. Neither had the time nor money for college.
Mine forever played host to family gatherings during the holidays of her latter years; my mother-in-law still hosts, cooking for crowds from a dozen to 40 or more.
Mine had an unyielding sweet tooth for all that is baked, placed in a crust or served with ice cream; my mother-in-law relishes them as well though one of her personal favorites is cheesecake.
Mine cleaned house with the girls, sweated in hot kitchens with her own mom and worked in the outdoors with the menfolk; my mother-in-law did also and frequently at the same time.
Mine basked in the presence of her own son-in-law and considered him as much a son as the two of her own; my mother-in-law has called me “son” in playful warning, but I suspect she does enjoy the few times that I get to come around for a brief visit and treat her as queen for a day.
Mine was always the “go to” for the kids, family and friends; my mother-in-law still is, and I don’t think she’d have it any other way.
Mine made sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice to keep others fed, grandchildren clothed and Christmases a time of pleasure for all the kids; my mother-in-law has never stopped.
Heaven has a special place for moms and the in-laws of their bonded sisterhood.
I miss mine. But I still have the other.
And she brings heaven to the rest of us who are still on earth.