Scott Free

Scott Peterson

There is such power in quiet.

In a world overwhelmed with self-centeredness and loudness and “look at me,” my mother-in-law, who was always about modesty, all about quiet and all about simplicity, died last Thursday in the most appropriate of all ways, peacefully.

Living to the age of 94, she was born on the cusp of where the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation came together. She was somehow both. She endured so much and yet she never lorded that over anyone. She never played the victim card. I don’t recall her ever complaining either. She was just internally one of the strongest people I have ever met.

If something did not go right, that was between her and God, and that was all that was necessary.

I first met her more than 40 years ago and each year it was like reading a good book, where each time through it you learned a little more and appreciated it more deeply. She unfolded like a rosebud, captivating you with her grace and charm, and never an ounce of pretentiousness, just a veiled inner serenity.

My wife is now an orphan, one of three daughters who carry her imprint. As one of the husbands put it so eloquently, none of Mary Lou’s daughters was high maintenance. In fact, they were hardy enough to be of pioneer stock, had this been another generation and time. Although she did not grow up on a farm, she acted like she did. There was always a sense with her that she felt she needed to earn her keep, to embody a work ethic and let her daughters know how important that was.

She was always quite feminine, but earned a bachelor’s degree in an era where most women did not. She and her husband built a lot of their home together. And when times got tough and her husband was overwhelmed by bipolarity, she went back to work and taught in Milwaukee Public Schools to make sure the family was provided for. She fought through breast cancer and a heart-valve replacement. She always found a way to do more with less.

And she never stopped learning. She considered it her duty to make herself a better person.

It’s fashionable for women these days to behave more like a man, as if that is necessary to gain stature, but I think, if she were alive today, she would say that women need to behave more like women, not in some sort of subjugation, but with subtle and profound power and unmitigated resolve that most men could never hope to have. She would never strive to be something she was not.

COVID-19 means that none of us will be able to properly mourn her passing, but I am one of the lucky ones. I married one of those orphans and, although she is too humble to think she could ever eclipse her mother’s understated eminence, I can attest she exudes it in everything she does.

When the meek inherit the earth, somewhere close to the front of the line will be Mary Lou, probably encouraging others to move ahead of her. And her daughters will not be far behind.

The world may have lost a gentle soul, but I am lucky enough to have married the next best thing, a daughter who exemplifies that same unassuming majesty in almost everything she does. I only wish I had spent more time thanking Mary Lou for the gift she left behind, my wife of more than 38 years.

Perhaps if I am lucky enough to get to heaven, I will let her know, presuming they let me get anywhere near the front of that line.

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