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In-laws became gracious gift-givers

My mama-in-law Jimie Dickinson was a simple woman. She worked in the home the old-fashioned way all of her life — raising two boys and twin girls — and she and my daddy-in-law Bill carried their post-Depression values with them all of their lives. After Paw Paw succumbed to breaking his hip in mid-July – his mind still good at 95 – Memaw just kind of gave up. She had been with him for 70 years, 10 months, and 7 days, and she seemed to have no desire to stay here any longer. It was quite a love story.

As we all bid them goodbye as best we could, I pondered the blessings they brought to me and my family through all those years. They were both blessings and gracious gifts, even though they may not have even realized they were giving them.

Their regular gifts were never fancy. In the early years on holidays or birthdays, I could expect Memaw to present me with a new tie. Over time, the tie turned into a box of chocolate-covered cherries. That was better. Of course, my sometimes funny and plain-spoken father-in-law, who knew I was always trying to lose weight, would say, “You can’t lose weight eating those.” I just laughed, grabbed another, and said, “You never know.”

But there were other gifts, and greater than chocolate-covered cherries.

In 1975, she and Paw Paw gave me their very best jewel: They gave me the amazin’ blonde. It was the best gift they could give, even if it took them some time to realize they were not losing a daughter but gaining another member of the family. But that didn’t matter so much: they had turned over to me the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. That was enough.

Another gift was soon to come, as they became amazing grandparents for my children Rachel and Mal. They were, perhaps, a bit “involved.” You understand.

Sometimes at the Deer Park, Texas, church where we all attended back then, the amazin’ blonde and I would have to move to the other side of the building to help control the kids. Sitting near the in-laws made it impossible to make them sit down and mind. But Memaw and Paw Paw didn’t mind. They moved, too, just a week or two later.

But along the way, they were blessing my kids spiritually in a way that validated what the amazin’ blonde and I tried to teach. They showed them what it meant to be staunch in their Bible stance. They demonstrated that the church was the most important thing in the world, with family even taking a backseat to church. The two, of course, were irrevocably intertwined. That was nothing new to a Georgia boy who had been raised at Preacher Miller’s feet. My in-laws were from that black and white era, and their examples were the types that stick with you all day long, kind of like Grandma’s cornbread and buttermilk.

In 1991, my son Mal chose Paw Paw to baptize him. I had almost drowned Rachel and me both in a sink hole when I baptized her in the San Jacinto River in 1988, so he opted for Paw Paw. I won’t forget that when they got in the water, and just before the baptizing, Paw Paw looked up with his face beaming and said what an honor it was to baptize his grandson. It was my honor, too. With Memaw and Paw Paw now both gone, I marvel to think that they’re waiting for them on that better shore, looking forward to gathering even more fruit from the work of their hands.

There’s one other gift.

For the past five years, they gave Marilyn and me the blessed opportunity to serve them. Five years ago, when we began to travel monthly back to our old Deer Park church to serve the congregation, I could feel my longtime relationship with my aging in-laws begin to shift. Maybe for the first time they looked at me not as the Georgia fella that came along and snatched their daughter but somewhat as a young man who had made his way pretty well through it all. They were my favorite ones to visit when I went about my work there, perhaps because of the added reward of sitting at Memaw’s table containing her vintage beans and cornbread. She wasn’t fancy, and that was the way I preferred it.

After a year, we moved them 250 miles north to the Dallas area where the amazin’ blonde and I live. For four more years, we enjoyed serving them daily, with Marilyn demonstrating why I call her amazing. The roles had reversed, perhaps, but it never really seemed that way at all.

In all those years, it was never a burden to serve. I still don’t know whether it was more of a gift we gave them or one they gave us. I expect it was the latter.

At the end, I think my only regret is we have no other gifts to give.