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My Aunt Gretchen, whom I adored because late in life she got the idea to change her ways for the better, was forever calling and asking me questions. Once she asked me how I came to have such a good relationship with my mother-in-law because she herself had two daughters-in-law, and she was finding it challenging.

The first time I stayed at my mother-in-law-to-be’s house, young and naive as I was, I got the message loud and clear that she was in charge. I was startled as I entered my guest bedroom one day, because there on the top of my suitcase I discovered all my underwear (that is, all of my formerly dirty underwear) washed, dried, ironed, and folded! Someone, clearly the iron-loving fiend I later learned my mother-in-law to be, had gone through my bag looking for my unmentionables. She loved standing at the board so much it had apparently gotten to the point of her rooting around visitors’ bags looking for things to straighten out with an iron. That wasn’t it exactly, so I said my bit with her but I don’t think it registered.

Several years later, after my boyfriend and I were married, I confronted her more clearly on a different kind of social faux pas. She’d shared with others things I’d explicitly told her in confidence, and I didn’t appreciate it. The confrontation didn’t go that well in that she accused me of calling her a ‘blabbermouth’. When I pointed out that that was her idea things really went south. Eventually we were both crying, me sitting on the floor looking up at her, exasperated that I’d gotten into such a tangle with my mother-in-law yet defending my position that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I remember telling her I truly loved her and I wished she’d take that into consideration. In the long run she must have decided I was not someone she could control or bully and she gave up trying. We got along fine after that because we seemed to have a healthy respect for one another from that point on.

So I told all this to Aunt Gretchen in case it might help.

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