My uncle recently died.
Not only that, but it was the holidays, so when my buddy Maloney called, I thought it was to offer his condolences...
"I've got bad news," he told me.
...but I guess he had other things on his mind.
"My mother-in-law," he said, sounding morose, "she might lose her eye."
"I'm sorry to hear that," I told him. "That IS bad news."
"Oh, that's not the bad news," he went on. "The bad news is she's moved back in with us."
Maloney and his mother-in-law have always had a contentious relationship, you could say. She had lived with them for a short while, and, when she moved out, Maloney promised himself never again, never again.
"As God is my witness..." he swore, but I think he was just copying Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind.
"I'm bringing my mother to our house," his wife told him, interrupting his golf game. "Her eye is infected and she can't be by herself. The doctor told her she might lose it."
"Well, she can stay with us," Maloney cautiously conceded, "until she gets better, but..."
"I've already told her she could move back in with us."
Maloney would have explained what was wrong with his mother-in-law's eye to me, but he wasn't paying attention when his wife explained it to him.
The next morning his mother-in-law was already at the kitchen table eating breakfast when Maloney walked in.
"Your eye doesn't look so bad," he lied, trying to sound chipper.
Truth was, her eye looked awful. Maloney lost his appetite and noticed his wife wasn't eating either. No one was eating, except his mother-in-law. Bad news didn't seem to affect her appetite, it would seem.
"I'm going to lose my eye," she wailed between heaping forkfuls of eggs and potatoes.
"No, you're not," Maloney tried to assure her, hopefully all the way out the door.
"Look at it," she told him.
"I don't want to look at it," he told her back.
"Look at my eye."
"I don't want to look at your eye."
"I'm just a burden," she said, starting to cry.
Maloney didn't offer an opinion.
"I'd be better off dead," she said.
"Don't talk that way," his wife told her.
"You'll live a long time," he told her.
"Because I'm not that lucky," he told me.
The twists and turns of life are funny. There's a saying that goes, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." My buddy Maloney had great plans. He planned to retire and then spend all of his his free time traveling and playing golf. He had planned to move to Alaska when he retired, but that was before he got married and had kids.
"We're not moving to Alaska," his new bride informed him early on.
He didn't mind changing his plans.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Climbing Mount Everest? He should have done those things when he was single. Having your nose amputated due to severe frostbite, losing fingers, that's for the young.
My brother and I once hiked from San Luis Obispo, California to Hearst's Castle and back. Every hill we climbed, there was an even higher hill behind it. That got me to thinking I'd one day like to hike all the way up the California coast, starting where the Pacific Coast Highway begins just south of San Juan Capistrano to where it ends in the town of Leggett in Mendocino County. That's a total of 656 miles, give or take a .2. I'm not as adventurous as my buddy. I like the idea of paved roads and plenty of towns, hotels, and restaurants to stop at, but I made the mistake of telling God my plans. He gave me a choice: I could spend my time hiking or I could spend it with my family.
I chose my family.
Meanwhile, Maloney's mother-in-law continued to whine and cry and carry on.
"I'm blind," she sobbed. "My life is over."
"Nonsense," Maloney insisted. "I bet you can see just fine."
He lifted a hand and flashed a peace sign.
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Hold them up and I'll tell you," she said.
It wasn't Maloney's plan to be an old man taking care of an even older old lady, but then it wasn't my plan to take care of my elderly father either, but we do what have to do. Speaking of my father, I told him later that the next time he saw Maloney's mother-in-law, she'd probably be wearing an eyepatch.
"That's a sexy look," he said, imagining it.
"THAT'S what I told her!" Maloney insisted when I told him what my father said.
Maloney then told me about a buddy of his whose mother-in-law also moved in with him, only this one didn't end so well. Whenever his buddy would have an argument with his wife, the wife would go to her mother for advice.
The mother herself was twice divorced, had her house foreclosed on, and kicked out of the apartment she was living in, so what kind of advice do you think she gave?
The kind that ended in divorce.
"You don't need him," she told her daughter, "you've got me. I'll be with you wherever you go."
"Of course that's what she told her," Maloney laughed. "Where else was she going to go?"
Without us, where would they go?