Life with Loretta….
Flashback – 1970's
Okay, my fiancé had asked if I’d like to meet his mom for the first time.
It was nearing Valentine's Day and she was at home, nursing a cold. Christopher-her oldest son and my future husband-wanted to bring her a Valentine gift and he thought it would be a good time to introduce us.
Now, I was in my early 20’s and (we're talking intimidating) “Let's see – his “mom” was a world famous movie star and television actress, She had attained super-celebrity status. She had won every kind of award the motion picture and television industries had to offer; an Academy Award, Golden Globes and Emmys. Not to mention being voted Best Dressed Woman of the Year many times” This was to be my future mother-in-law!
Needless to say, I was a little nervous when we first met. But she went out of her way to put me at ease.
After we had chatted for a few minutes, Loretta gestured for me to follow her. She led me into her home's small laundry room and pointed to a washer and dryer and asked if I knew how to use the machines! I laughed and asked if this was some kind of family joke, something she asked all her son's girl friends? I thought it might be a trick question! She laughed and said; no she wanted someone to show HER how to use them! Her personal assistant was away on an extended vacation and Loretta was ready to learn how to do laundry, at the age of 68!
Well, at least my future mother-in-law wasn't a perfect housewife… that was good news!
So, Loretta and I hit it off from the very beginning, but our relationship really blossomed a couple of years later.
In 1978, Christopher and I were married and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Loretta had taken a two-week cruise and before flying home to California decided to stop in for a short visit. Well, she arrived with thirteen suitcases (which should have tipped us off)! Her short visit stretched into five eventful months.
She apparently enjoyed our Tulsa lifestyle and decided to stick around for a while and to be “mom” to both of us.
We lived in an older two-bedroom house with one tiny bathroom. The rooms were small, as were the closets. After glancing into the minuscule closet in the guest bedroom, she declared we were going shopping for clothes racks to accommodate her wardrobe. Off to the nearest K-mart, where we bought all the racks in the store!
Once she unpacked all those clothes we could barely fit into the room. The racks surrounded three sides of the bed - but she had cleared a path just big enough so she could turn sideways and drop into bed each night!
In Tulsa, Loretta decided to become more domestic. She wanted to learn to cook and have meals prepared for us when we arrived home from work each night. She did ask if we'd call the house about ten minutes before we planned to be home.
One evening we arrived unexpectedly to find smoke pouring out of the open kitchen windows and doors, the smoke detector blaring, and Mom happily broiling ground sirloin on a red-hot grill. Flames and smoke were billowing! She confessed that she usually needed a little time to clear the smoke from the room and that's why she liked advance warning that we were on the way home!
We'd been given a set of Wedgwood dishes as a wedding gift and one night as we were preparing dinner, Loretta put three of the plates on the stovetop and turned on the flame. She thought she was ‘warming” them before serving the food, but a few minutes later we heard a tremendous blast and turned to see the plates flying off the stove in every direction!
Loretta had turned the flame on way too high and the plates literally exploded! She repeated this 'trick' on several occasions during her visit, so by the time she left town that service of twelve plates had dwindled to five.
One day I dragged out my Crock-Pot and showed her how it worked. Well, she thought this was just the best idea! She promised a special dinner for us that evening. We came home to a ‘special dinner’ indeed.
Evidently mom had phoned her friend, Jane Wyatt, to tell her of the marvelous Crock-Pot - and Jane shared her recipe for Chicken Breast Smothered in Sauerkraut. So, we had Chicken and Sauerkraut. It was odd, and a little weird - but tolerable - for one meal. Loretta, however, had filled the Crock Pot to the brim…so we had Chicken Breast Smothered in Sauerkraut for the next night - and when some was still left over she tried to talk us into Chicken Breast Smothered in Sauerkraut for a third night… Chris finally staged a protest and refused to eat any more Crock Pot dinners!
I can honestly say that we've never tried that recipe again.
So, together in that little house in Tulsa - daughter and mother-in-law cooked, cleaned, sewed and decorated. We went to parties and church. We shopped. We talked and shared stories. We got to know each other. We gained respect for one another. Looking back, I realize that during this time, Loretta and I built the foundation for a close and loving relationship that we never lost.
Our bond grew stronger over the years and she became my other “mother.” She shared her heart and laughed at her own mistakes. Her sense of humor was a bonus! She remained flexible throughout her life, such an admirable trait – one that I work on in my life.
Loretta was a role model for living a full life. She was an unusual combination of a worldly woman guided by Spirit. She was a gift to my life and I'm blessed to have known her.