In loving memory of my mother-in-law "Mama Honey" Diane Warner
It was December 1980 and my boyfriend Kevin and I had been dating a little over a month when he was having dinner with his family at a Japanese restaurant in Aptos during our Christmas break from UC Davis. One of his siblings asked either what my last name was or how to spell it (it was Preimsberger) when his mother piped up that it didn't matter..."It's going to be Warner," she said, "I see it in the tea leaves."
She had yet to lay eyes on me, but she was right. Kevin and I married in August 1982.
I remember announcing our engagement on New Year's Day 1982: Kevin and I drove from Davis to San Jose to find his mom in the library at their big house they dubbed The Mansion, visiting with a cousin—family and friends were always stopping by for a visit—I don't remember who else was there, but I do remember how happy his mom was for us and to celebrate, she made some calls and rounded up some of her kids and a few other relatives who lived nearby and sent Kevin and me to Taco Bell to pick up dinner.
We came back with bags of tacos and burritos and ate them in the formal dining room at the large table topped with a beautiful crocheted lace tablecloth, toasting with glasses of Pepsi. I was instantly welcomed into this big family—if Kevin loved me, then they loved me.
That gift of belonging is one of the most precious gifts I've received in my life, a gift that my mother-in-law extended to me and everyone who graced her doors.
Any friend of anyone in her family, or any friend of a family friend, was a friend of hers. Friends and relatives could stop by my mother-in-law's anytime. No need to call first. And any occasion was a cause for celebration. No need for a fancy menu, or to send out invitations. No need to plan in advance or even need to clean if pressed for time—you could just pile everything in a corner and drape a sheet over it. I used her trick many times when my kids were little, and it was the perfect decor for Halloween parties!
On the other hand, she especially loved making things beautiful, and decorating for holidays by filling the table with candles and crystals or acorns and pinecones, and when I had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving dinners with my husband at our house, my mother-in-law—who’d been dubbed “Mama Honey” by our oldest child—was the first to lend a hand and to compliment my arrangements, a collection of my children’s school craft projects I saved and reused.
My mother-in-law had a huge oak dining table custom built for her beach house in the early 1980s that sat more than a dozen, and it traveled with her after she moved from there. In the past 35 years I've had the privilege to gather around that table time and time again, with family and friends and strangers who became friends; some of who are no longer living (but feasting with Mama Honey in the next life I hope).
Her generosity was genuine and never grudging. Her door and heart were always open, and there was always room for another person at the table, even when they showed up unannounced on holidays after the meal had begun. A true model I’ve tried to emulate—not always successfully.
That big oak table got overrun in the past year or so when my mother-in-law wasn't able to get around, even in her apartment. As she began to feel better, the clutter began to bother her more, and I made it a goal to clear it off for her—sorting, filing, and recycling the items it held—in July as she was recovering from a three-week hospital stay. And just in time for the last day of our visit, we gathered round that beautiful table for what would be Mama Honey’s last supper with extended family. There were three children, one grandchild, several in-laws and a few friends gathered for deli chicken and pre-made potato salad, bagged green salad, steak, watermelon, and iced tea. Our menu unpretentious as she'd taught us.
There was also a young man most of us were meeting for the first time; a young man who Mama Honey had predicted her granddaughter (my daughter) would marry weeks before she even met him.... Time will tell, but based on my experience, she’s always right about that sort of thing.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.