My Ninety-Seven-Year-Old Mother-in-Law Comes to Stay

The main problem with my mother-in-law is that she’s such a hard act to follow. In my book Yoder School, I describe her as Mother Teresa of Mennonites. She opened her home, already full with her own nine kids and her foster kids, to people in trouble. Steve had never known who he might sit next to at supper—an alcoholic trying to stay on the wagon, a mom and her kids who had run out of food stamps, or someone on a suicide watch. In decades I’ve been part of the Swartz family, I’ve never once heard her complain, and I’ve watched her, time and again, find hope in bad times.

She showed up for her ten-day stay with us, bringing her abundant goodwill, which I had expected, and a touch of genius, which I hadn’t.

“I have a goal,” she said within the first hour, “of reading your book again while I am with you.”

This was a way to my heart, for sure.

I watched as she doggedly set about her task. I’d walk by her room, and she’d be huddled by a window for light, peering through a magnifying glass.

“Would you like me to read to you?” I asked one day, and her face sagged with relief.

And so our daily readings began. We read mornings in her bedroom, after lunch at the table, and evenings in the living room recliners. She listened as I read about my childhood, the times before she knew me, and how I dated her son and married him and how together we scrapped through the lean years of our early marriage as we juggled babies and classes on our way to college diplomas.

“I didn’t realize that,” she kept saying.

One evening she was tired, so, so tired. But once in bed, she wanted me to read. After a few pages, I paused, thinking she’d want to sleep.

“Go on,” she said. “Keep reading. I want to hear.”

It was one of the precious moments of my life—this ninety-seven-year-old woman, who had once nurtured my husband, who had read him countless books, now snuggled in bed, weak from the efforts of the day, listening to a story.

12 Replies to “My Ninety-Seven-Year-Old Mother-in-Law Comes to Stay”

  1. This lady, anna mae swartz, forever left godly principles lived during my living with them as a young christian girl. Here was birthed my desire to become a trained nurse and self supporting missionary. The placque in my bedroom from proverbs 31: 30 became my theme. Thank you for enriching my 91 years.


  2. I love this story so much, Phyllis! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, your mother-in-law is a very special lady. I hope I’ll carry her grace if I live to be her age!


  3. Dear ]Phyllis,
    I loved this. It caught my attention when you said 97. Is my Aunt Anna Mae really 97? Wow! I just ordered your book. I’m going to go back and read all your writings now. You sure have a gift. ❤


  4. Such a precious story, Phyllis! Even in her frailty, she ( and you) are are impacting my life.
    I can hear her saying “Keep reading. I want to hear”!


  5. I’m so happy I ran across your blog again this morning. For some reason it hasn’t been showing up in my Facebook feed. So this morning I’m reading pretty much all of them. One by one. Thoughtful. Inspiring. Good stories. I love this one in particular, picturing you reading to my dear “Auntie Ann.” That’s what we always called her. I think my mom decided early on that “Aunt Anna Mae” was too big a mouthful for us kids…. I bought Yoder School last year and loved it!


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