I never had a mother-in-law I didn’t like.

This is probably because I was 29 the first time I tied the knot, which my good wife untied after helping me struggle through four years of graduate school. And I was a reasonably mature 54 when I married Marsha, The Almost Perfect Woman.

When you marry at 54, after living alone for 20 years, it is your brain that makes the decision.

And long before you are 60 you realize that, because most women are cut from the same cloth as their mothers, the woman you marry is more than likely to be just like her mother. In other words, if you like your mother-in-law, you will like your wife.

We all know more than one man who married a woman whose mother – and mother’s mother – were dysfunctional. His wife inherited the condition and passed it along to their children.

It is difficult to live with people who are so afflicted. It is emotionally exhausting. Even living next door to a person who might smile at you one day and scream obscenities the next enables you to identify with the laboratory rat who is shocked on a variable-interval schedule.


If you listen to your disturbed friends for any length of time, you begin to question your own sanity and look for self-help books.

There is a magic pill that would somewhat alleviate everyone’s misery, but too many refuse to take something that would bring them back to earth, and they can’t be forced to do so.

Young men should be taught that you have to look past the high IQ and pretty face and check out her mother and even her mother’s mother for signs of instability before signing articles.

Once past that, young adults of both sexes must then consider the compatibility factor.

Two people who have to be in charge cannot live together. Only one person can have the right of way in a small Maine kitchen, and one has to happily step aside. There is nothing that could be construed as justice or “I was here first” in a happy home. One person has to know his place and cheerfully wait his turn.

However, two laid-back people living together is a recipe for disaster. Garbage in plastic bags piles up outside their trailers. The living room is cluttered with moldy, unwashed clothing. The sink overflows with dirty dishes that have steeped for weeks in brackish water.


Nothing ever gets done because they spend evenings seated on a greasy couch, waiting for the other one to do something. They keep two cats, which add to the ambiance.

Nor can obsessive-compulsives live together. Neither would yield the right of way in the kitchen or bathroom. They would knock each other down rushing to pick up a thread on the carpet.

Their greatest pleasure would come from grooming each other like monkeys or polishing the bike racks on their Volvos.

Whenever Maine coast temperatures creep up to a sizzling 68 or 70 degrees, I am comfortable. My wife likes it cold. She is never happier than when I come in from working outside and put my ice-cold hands up under her shirt and on her steaming bare back. She says, “Ahh. That feels good.” And I say, “Ahh. That feels good.” The ability to complement each other is the secret to a happy marriage.

Marsha inherited her mother’s need to tell her spouse to do things he was already in the process of doing. Like her mother, Marsha needed a man who could ignore an endless stream of innocuous suggestions as long as nutritious meals were prepared on a regular basis.

The fondest memory I have of Marsha’s mother is of an afternoon I was riding in the back seat of a car. She was in the front with my buddy Bill, her husband, who was driving.


As we approached the place where they had lived for several years, my mother-in-law turned to Bill and told him to get in the left lane.

Without taking his eyes off the road, he smiled and whispered, “Shut up, Muriel.”

There are people who have to tell others what to do. It is hardwired into their frontal lobes and they can’t help it. My wife, Marsha, has learned to control her urge to bark commands by turning commands into polite questions: “I can’t do the morning wash until you give me your pajamas, so are you going to have your shower now?”

“I’m really into this column I’m writing for my friends who read the Portland Press Herald, and I’m almost done.”

No excuse is valid, so I finish it naked as a jaybird.

You have heard of the new devices in cars that tell drivers when to brake or make a turn. I’ve had one for more than 20 years. In all that time it has never accused me of speeding or tailgating. I am more likely to hear, “Why are you driving slower than the posted limit? It is 70 here, you know.”


Marsha is not as critical of my driving as she used to be, because she knows I have a standard reply.

Without looking up or displaying the least bit of emotion, I smile and whisper, “Shut up, Muriel.”

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:


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