The in-laws I never knew

papa
Carlos, the pistol-packing physician. Perhaps heading to a house call. 

I’VE HAD THREE sets of in-laws due to having two former wives and now a third wife who won’t ever be an ex. I sure hope not. I’m too old to start over.

mama
Mama, Margarita.

I never met my third set of in-laws because they died long before I came on the Mexican scene 19 years ago. Both died too young. My father-in-law, who was a family physician and surgeon, died of a heart attack at 61.

My mother-in-law, who bears a strong resemblance to my child bride, died in childbirth when she was only 31.

She was having her fifth child. The baby survived, but she did not. That same baby went on to die of a heart attack last year in his early 50s.

Mama’s death had a massive negative effect on the family, an effect that has tumbled down through the decades.

Daddy was something of a tough hombre, a trait the photo illustrates well. In spite of that, he was much beloved in the Tierra Caliente town of Los Reyes where he long practiced medicine.

If patients couldn’t pay, he would accept poultry or vegetables as payment, whatever they offered. People in Los Reyes remember him fondly to this day, decades after his death.

My child bride, as a teenager, often worked as his receptionist and even gave shots to patients on occasion. She got paid extra for that.

Family lore says the doctor wasn’t fond of Gringos, a feeling he passed down to some of his offspring. I have changed most of their minds, however.

I wonder if I would have changed his.

My mother-in-law was beautiful.

13 thoughts on “The in-laws I never knew

  1. Just my opinion, but to me Mexican families tend to be exclusive and introverted. They form close relations with friends when they are children and they keep these relationships for the rest of their lives.

    They will accept an outsider into the family, but they usually will never be privy to the inside stories and will always be held at a distance. Like furniture, it seems. “Does it understand Spanish?” “What does it do for a living?”

    But if one sticks around long enough, eventually they are told about when an uncle ran off with a floozie and what cousin is gay. Who stole who’s change at the bar fifty years ago. Just my opinion.

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    1. Señor Gill: Octavio Paz said, “A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile.” It is true. It’s why I chuckle on hearing Gringos gush about how “friendly” Mexicans are. They certainly can be, but usually it’s bogus. Not always, of course, but usually. As for marrying into a Mexican family, I think it’s about the only way to have them remove the mask. After I got married, it became starkly obvious that I was seeing different people and hearing different things. Quite interesting. I sometimes see one of them tell someone (who’s not a relative) something or other, and then turn around — out of earshot — and say the exact opposite. Family is everything here. I attribute that to Mexico’s difficult history in which there was no one to fall back on in bad times except relatives. You sure couldn’t trust the government. The church either.

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  2. There are many different opinions, most of them valid, concerning the sincerity of friendliness here. Our perceptions are based on the most part from the depth of our experiences within the culture, far more insight than any book can give us. In some of our cases, Felipe’s for example, marriage opens many doors that remain closed to the majority of Gringos. And even then, for some like Felipe or myself, there are other factors that shape our perception. Language, economics, educational backgrounds, age, children or no children, geographical location and willingness to assimilate all have a bearing on how we view others here.

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      1. Yeah, I got a little carried away there. Let me put it differently. An old Gringo who marries a much younger Mexicana whose father was a Gringo-hating, don Chente lookalike from a backwater town in a backward part of the country might have a different idea about friendly Mexicanos than a Gringo that didn’t.

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  3. My father used to say that Mexican family conversation was like a coyote in a chicken coop. Every one making noise at the same time and no one listening.

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  4. Daddy might have been a tough hombre, but Mama doesn’t look like anyone to mess around with either. She has a certain look in her eye…

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      1. I noted the likeness myself before I read your text. Your late mother-in-law was a fine-looking woman.

        May she and her late husband rest in peace.

        Saludos,

        Kim G
        Boston, MA
        Where we have our mother’s, cousin’s, and grandmother’s nose.

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