Learning to Love Your Mother-in-Law on Thanksgiving

Bob Brody never got along with his mother-in-law – and he let the whole world know it in a 2011 column he penned for New York’s Daily News.

His specific problems with Antoinette “Nettie” Chirichella of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were that she talked too loud and too much, was an incessant worrier, and tended to focus primarily on all the negatives in the world. Brody wrote, “The woman got under my skin more than acupuncture.” He prided himself, though, on restraining his annoyance at her for 23 years.

Then, in 1998, something changed. It wasn’t Nettie, who still acted and talked the same way she always had. Brody, on the other hand, started listening, really listening to her. Why? He said, “Maybe Nettie grew on me. Maybe I simply grew up. Maybe it dawned on me that even though she might never change, I certainly could.”

He learned that Nettie had worked as a seamstress in a sewing factory for 47 years. It occurred to him that maybe she talked loud because she had no choice if she wanted her co-workers to hear her over the noisy sewing machines.

It was more than that, however. Brody wrote, “I finally recognized how much I owed her. She had raised her daughter — without a husband, on a pittance — and then took care of our two children, too, while my wife and I worked. Nothing was ever easy for her, yet she never gave us an ounce less than her all. Nettie never second-guessed me, never questioned my bad decisions or came down on me when I got fired from my first job; never stopped believing in me even when I almost stopped believing in myself. So I made amends with an act of apology long overdue.”

Though Brody usually dreaded Thanksgiving dinner with Nettie, he finally came to enjoy her company that year. He even spent more time with her willingly.

The newfound camaraderie between son-in-law and mother-in-law unfortunately didn’t last long. The following year saw Nettie succumb to complications from open heart surgery. She passed away at the age of 78.

Reflecting on his relationship with Nettie, Brody said, “Nettie has been gone for 12 years now, and I would give most anything to get her back, even if only for an hour, just to keep my apology going. I would love to see her just once more with her grandchildren, both grown so smart, beautiful and talented. We keep her cane on display in our living room, leaning against a dresser, as if to lend our family her support through eternity. If I ever forget how to feel grateful on Thanksgiving, she’s all the reminder I need.”

(To read Brody’s complete column, click here.)

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