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.