I hate stereotypical mother-in-law jokes and memes because my husband’s mom was one of my favorite people in this world. Always the life of the party, she quickly embraced me as part of her family, warmly sharing her traditions, recipes, and games.
Normally, she was an excellent gift giver—for example, she noticed I traveled with toiletries in random baggies, so for my birthday she got me a quality, hang-up travel kit that’s lasted more than a decade, and she even filled it with fun-sized versions of my favorite products.
Nevertheless, in the early years of our marriage, she suggested a gift that baffled me: a curio cabinet. And what made it worse was that she seemed to expect I would love the idea, like she anticipated I would get all mushy over the thought of such a lavish gift.
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Even though I was in my late twenties, I had to force my eyeballs from rolling in my head like a teenager. I had to stifle a laugh, or in my most cynical moments, refrain from making a gag-me gesture.
Seriously, a curio cabinet . . .
For what? My souvenir spoon collection? Or perhaps commemorative coins and porcelain thimbles?
But she was 100 percent serious, which blew my mind. In fact, a few years earlier she purchased a darker-wood model for my sister-in-law, a pricey gift for the new wife of her oldest son. And when we visited during the holidays, I marveled that someone my own age had knick-knacks and tchotchkes worthy of display on mirrored panels.
While my in-laws worked hard to welcome me into their fold, in those moments I felt like an alien in some antiquey alternate universe.
My own mother never had a curio. In fact, I don’t remember any of my aunts or even my great-aunts or grandmothers owning one.
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Plus, I consider myself a bit of a minimalist. I don’t check bags at the airport. I donate clothes as soon as my kids grow out of them. And I refuse to buy junk that would just clutter up my house.
In contrast, my mother-in-law’s collections went beyond standard bric-a-brac, she had baubles for every season.
Multiple times a year, this woman changed up her special cabinet. And you can bet she dusted it faithfully. It even held a position of prestige smack in her living room, visible as soon as you walked in the front door.
Though I always tried my best to be polite, I’m sure she clearly got the message that I did not want a curio of my very own. And after a couple of years, thankfully, she stopped asking.
But then life happened. I had kids and matured as one does when suddenly responsible for other humans. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and fought a hard, stunningly short battle that ended when she was only 59 years old. And just a few years after her gorgeous light flickered out, my father-in-law passed away too.
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Clearing out the home they lived in for 30+ years was a Herculean task, and I can’t take credit for much of it. But as I wrapped up the heirloom dishes and Venetian glass in her precious curio, I felt her all around me. Despite the sadness and despair, I sensed her joy and wonder at watching all of her little treasures light up and reflect off the mirrors. And when my nephews were ready to haul to the curb that now empty, tall corner cabinet with beveled edges, with plans to leave it out for random strangers to collect, I suddenly couldn’t sit by and watch it happen.
Nobody wanted that curio.
Except for me, who scoffed at the very concept not that long ago.
Today my mother-in-law’s curio cabinet holds a place of prominence in my own living room, in full view of the kitchen table where I do all my writing. I don’t change it up as much as she did, and I certainly don’t dust it as often, but I do keep some of her delicate China teacups and a framed portrait of her on display at all times. Heck, I even threw in some souvenirs from my own travels, including a tiny painted boat from Malta and a snowglobe from Iceland.
And I can’t help but feel her love and warmth all around me whenever I look at it.
And I think . . . My sweet mother-in-law, you got me! You were right all along. Apparently, I did need a curio cabinet.