One More Before She GoesFebruary 3rd, 2011 © by Susan Swartz
Miriam Swartz and I stopped being in-laws 30 years ago when her son and I divorced. But way back then we agreed that was no reason for us to split up. She could have pushed me away because the divorce was my idea. But by then we were more than standard in-laws. And I was the mother of her only grandchild who, Miriam and I agreed, needed as much consistency as we could provide to weather this family rupture.
Miriam and I also recognized that she and I needed each other. We’d known each other since her son and I dated in high school. She knew my parents. She always said I was the daughter she always wanted. I always said she was my second mother. We promised to continue in those roles and sealed our new alliance with a drink, probably something containing vodka, she being of the cocktail generation.
Through the years people would occasionally marvel at how Miriam and I could remain so tight even after her son went his way and I, mine.
But our divorced status was only a technicality, not a barrier.
When I remarried, Miriam came to our wedding party. She automatically added my new husband to her Christmas list along with my two stepdaughters who came with the marriage. From then on every Easter Miriam would show up with three custom-made baskets for all three daughters.
If she loved you, you and yours were in, which is how she managed to start out officially as mother of one and grandmother of one and still end up with a pretty big brood.
After a while we stopped introducing each other as former in-laws and merely said “this is my friend.” We shared most holidays, her schlepping back and forth between her son’s house and his new family and my house and my new family. Every year we went to the Sing-Along Messiah and screeched out the alto parts together. When my mother got sick with Alzheimer’s, Miriam sat with her and comforted me. When my husband and I moved to Germany Miriam visited and she and her granddaughter and I hopscotched around Europe together.
Miriam died last week at age 90. I am not named in the official obit because that is not newspaper style but I’m helping to put on a memorial celebration with the family, blood and otherwise. She always hated to leave a good party, saying “I probably should be going,” which is why we’re going to give her one more.
I will make her famous rum cake and do my best interpretation of Miriam telling a joke – smoothing her skirt, crossing her ankles and launching into a salty tale that left her audience gasping.
She did not have a spectacular career. She worked mostly as a bookkeeper. She never made a lot of money but she gave generously and quietly to those in need. She did not have a lot of degrees and affiliations but she was a classy lady and a tough act to follow.
Photo: Miriam, Sam and Susan Swartz