Found in Translation

Visiting the bio-fam requires patience.

Ah, the family visit. What a bizarre custom. We leave the comfort of our homes, travel to places we escaped ages ago, and spend time with people from whom we’ve moved thousands of miles away — for a reason.

This year Wifey and I visited her mother in Cleveland — summer vacation destination of, well, nobody. I brave the muggy season in my gal’s homeland out of spousal loyalty, proving that same-sex marriages threaten nobody but the people in them.

It’s part of the bargain. After 18 years of unsanctioned matrimony, visiting in-laws — or, in our case, out-laws — ranks right up there with love, honor, and accompany to colonoscopy.

We buzzed apartment 206 of the senior housing unit.

“Who is it?” Mom’s voice crackled through the intercom.

Didn’t we just call from the airport to announce our arrival?

Maybe she was joking. I’ve learned to translate Momspeak and assume the best intentions.

A couple of years ago, when Wifey and I last took on the Midwest — the only out queers at a cousin’s opposite-sex wedding — Mom said, “You should visit again before I drop dead.” Who could resist such an alluring invitation? Not us.

“Hi, Mom,” we said into the wall.

“Oy, I’m not even dressed.” She clicked off the intercom.

If this was her Guess What I Really Mean secret code, Wifey wasn’t amused.

My lifemate tends to go catatonic around her biological family anyhow, and the cross-country redeye didn’t exactly bolster her spirits. Standing in the humid heat wasn’t helping.

Mom greeted us at her apartment door. “What took you so long?”

Translated, she was saying Welcome, Sweethearts, I’m so glad to see you.

My mother-out-law is a perfectly nice woman — if you consider complaining perfectly nice — but she does push her daughter’s buttons. Poor Wifey. She glazed over, leaving me to engage Mom in conversation.

I commented on how nicely she’d arranged her apartment.

“These candlesticks are yours when I’m gone,” she said. “Then you’ll see me every day.” Rough translation: You two are important to me.

Wifey sighed and curled up on the couch.

“My one chance to see you and you’re going to sleep?” Meaning: I appreciate your making the long trip.

Ya gotta feel for this woman. She’s old, raised three kids who rarely visit, outlived her husband and all her sibs, survived breast cancer — isn’t she entitled to complain a little?

Wifey hugged a throw pillow.

Mom gave me a tour of her kitchen. I realized that our last meal had been several time zones ago. Despite the airline’s generous serving of nearly one dozen miniature pretzel sticks I was hungry. Wifey came to and offered to take us out for lunch.

Mom said “What? My food isn’t good enough?” Translation: Great idea! I haven’t been out to eat in a long time.

I suggested she might enjoy a drive in our rented convertible. She responded with “I’m not sitting in the back!” Translation: How fun, I haven’t ridden in one of these for years.

We ate at Cleveland’s best Jewish deli. “Oy, I’ll gain 10 pounds and have a heart attack.” I love the food here.

Took her shopping. “My feet are killing me.” How nice to get out and about.

Toured the sights. “With what you’re paying for gas you could afford to call me once in a while.” Such a luxury, I’m having a terrific time!

And so it went for the next few days, me translating in my head, Wifey zoning out, and her mom kvetching about, well, pretty much everything.

On our last evening, Mom said, “Next time you come it’ll be for my funeral.” Translated, that meant It’s been wonderful.

I thanked Mom for her hospitality and we all hugged goodbye.

Ten hours and another pretzel feast later Wifey and I arrived to a message on the answering machine. “It’s Mom. Just wanted to make sure you got home OK. I really enjoyed our visit.”

No translation necessary.

Award-winning columnist Sally Sheklow enjoys her chosen family in Eugene.

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