Can Katie have a happy marriage despite her uppity mother-in-law’s disapproval?
By Nancy Machlis Rechtman.
|Image generated with OpenAI|
I am not the first Mrs. Davenport. But this is the first marriage for both Tyler and me. So please let me explain if you find this confusing – I am referring to my husband’s formidable battle-axe of a mother, the first and only (according to her) Mrs. Davenport.
I tried, I really did, to get her to like me. I was only 25 when Tyler and I met, and I did pick up on his reluctance to introduce me to his mother from the start. I just thought he was like the other guys I had dated, not in a big rush to introduce their mothers into our relationship. But there was something about Tyler that was different from the rest. He seemed more serious about life. Not that he didn’t like to have fun, but he had a plan for his life that was kind of carved in stone. He was a whiz with numbers and he wanted to be the CFO of a major company by the time he was 40. Mrs. Davenport #1 was thrilled with this plan. And nothing – no one – was going to stand in her son’s way.
At first, Tyler didn’t speak much about his family. I had few family members, and tragically, both of my parents had been killed by a drunk driver who hit them head-on when I was nine years old. I was also an only child. My Aunt Ginny had very kindly taken me in, and she did her best with me. But she had never married and hadn’t spent much time around kids, so while she tried, I know it wasn’t easy for either of us. She mostly treated me like a small adult, and I had to grow up real fast. But I wonder if anything could have prepared me for the first Mrs. Davenport.
Tyler and I had been dating for about six months. He had met my Aunt Ginny before our first official date since she insisted that he pick me up at the house so she could get a sense of him, as she put it. They hit it off right away, with my aunt very impressed with his manners and life’s ambition. He also hit it off with her mini poodle Sparky, and that was all she needed to know about Tyler. Every time we went out, Tyler looked forward to his chats with Aunt Ginny, and visits with Sparky, almost as much as spending time with me. He had talked to me about his family. He was also an only child. His father was a partner in a local law firm and his mother was on the board of several nonprofits. I understood that was significant by the way Tyler told me this information and paused, as if it was so weighty it deserved a nod and an expression of awe, which I tried to manifest. It wasn’t until I actually met the woman that I understood this was the expected reaction for anything she undertook. Making a meal. Wearing a new dress. Probably even going to the bathroom.
Why, you might ask, didn’t I immediately head for the hills? I asked myself that question almost every day and the answer was and is, I really liked Tyler. He was sweet and kind and funny and smart – no other guy had even come close to checking off all my boxes when it came to a boyfriend. And did I mention good-looking? I mean, heads swiveled whenever we went anywhere, and I promise you they weren’t looking at me. Being with him, I might have felt invisible, if it weren’t for the fact that he made sure to give me his undivided attention and he always made me feel beautiful. He loved that I taught third grade and loved my kids so much that I would do anything for them. And for some of the cattier observers amongst us, I was not dating him for his money, although it was a nice change of pace to go out to eat and be assured from the moment we arrived that it was Tyler’s treat and I should order anything I wanted, especially since I lived on a pretty limited budget. He insisted. And Tyler didn’t even care that I was a vegetarian; he thought it was pretty cool. I loved that I didn’t have to defend my choices the way I often had to with guys I had just met. They would try to cajole me into taking a bite of their hamburger. Or have a strip of bacon. I’d try to tell them that I didn’t judge them for eating innocent animals, so why were they judging me for not eating them? These conversations never went over well.
Now, while Tyler was kind and accepting, his mother, on the other hand, was, as you might have already guessed, far from it. When we finally did meet – at, of all the cliched places, take a guess, go on… Ding ding ding if you guessed their country club! Anyway, yes, of course, darling, where else would one meet their son’s low-rent girlfriend in order to intimidate the crap out of her without actually coming out and saying that’s what you were trying to do? Mrs. Davenport #1 looked me up and down and stuck out her hand in such a way that I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to shake it or kiss her ring; I finally grabbed her hand and shook it heartily as if I was trying to pump water from a well, until Tyler gently put his hand on my arm and disentangled us. His father, Mr. Davenport, didn’t seem to care about my lower-class roots, and actually smiled and gave me a bear hug, and thanked me for joining them for dinner! I knew right away which branch of the family Tyler had come from, and my relief must have been pretty obvious because Mrs. Davenport #1 tried not to glare at me as she assessed my white, flowery sundress that had been on sale at Macy’s for only $25, and my strappy silver sandals from DSW. I thought I looked pretty cute, to tell you the truth, and apparently so did Tyler, who smiled so happily when he saw me and kept putting his arm around me like he was proud to have me by his side; I almost forgot the daggers that were shooting my way from across the table. Mrs. Davenport #1 was wearing what looked like a nice linen dress with a lovely gold necklace that accented her perfect tan. When I pretended to take a picture of the food, I actually took a pic of her and sent it to my friend Stacey who knows everything about fashion, and she immediately texted back $$$$$ to indicate that this was definitely no off-the-rack dress on sale for $25 from Macy’s.
Anyway, when we were handed the menus, Tyler took a quick glance and told the server that I was a vegetarian and could they make something that I’d be able to eat. The server nodded vigorously, and asked if I could have pasta with vegetables, I said I could, the rest of them ordered some kind of shrimp and scallops salad, along with their drinks. Tyler and Mr. Davenport ordered martinis, and Mrs. Davenport #1 ordered, of all things, a mint julep! We were in the South, but seriously, this wasn’t Gone With the Wind, for heaven’s sake! Anyway, I don’t drink because of how my parents died, and that had kept me away from alcohol all of my life. I was so tempted to order an unsweet tea, which was blasphemy in the South, but I knew that Mrs. Davenport #1 didn’t need me to hand her one more reason to find me totally unsuitable for her baby boy, so I didn’t.
“A vegetarian?” Mrs. Davenport #1 drawled. “I don’t think Tyler has ever dated a vegetarian before.”
“Mother, you say it like you’ve just met a mermaid,” Tyler said. “Although that would be pretty cool,” he added, smiling at me.
“Now, dear, let’s not make Katie here uncomfortable,” Mr. Davenport said gently. “She is our guest after all and we don’t want her to feel unwelcome.”
Mrs. Davenport #1 took a long sip of her mint julep which had just been set onto the table along with the other drinks. She stared at her husband over the top of her glass. He didn’t even look her way. “Well, Katie,” she said in a forced, friendly tone which I knew might be in the same category as having a venomous snake slowly rear up behind you. “What caused you to turn into a vegetarian?” Vegetarian was said as if it was some kind of deadly disease.
Tyler shook his head and put his hand on mine. “Mom, do you think we can talk about something other than Katie’s diet?”
I saw the look on her face and jumped in, naively hoping I might score points if I actually answered the question. “Oh, Tyler, I don’t mind. I’m used to people asking me. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was ten years old. When I realized that, because I loved animals so much, it was kind of hypocritical of me to eat them. So I stopped.”
“Well, what did your parents say?” Mrs. Davenport #1 said. “I imagine your mother wasn’t thrilled with such an unorthodox way of eating.”
“Umm, Mom,” Tyler said.
I squeezed his hand. “My parents had died the year before,” I informed her. “It was a car accident. My aunt Ginny took me in and raised me and she didn’t mind at all.”
It was like someone had flung a wet towel onto our table. The conversation stopped. Everyone downed their cocktails as if they hadn’t had anything to drink for days. The servers arrived with our lunch and carefully set everyone’s plates on the table. Then, realizing no one was speaking, or even thanking them except for me and Tyler, they quickly backed away from the table and vanished. So that, my friends, was my first experience with Mrs. Davenport #1. And I will tell you without hesitation, it was only the beginning.
Even though I knew – or thought I knew – what lay ahead, I continued to date Tyler. He wasn’t the villain of this piece, I assure you. He was kind and supportive and kept me as far from Mrs. Davenport #1 as possible. He told me that his father actually liked me, which came as a nice surprise. So, Tyler and I became more and more serious about each other. I ignored the nagging questions that kept me up at night about what would happen if we ever got married, thinking that Tyler and I would just move overseas, or maybe to another planet, and never have to see that woman again. Young love is so blindingly naive, isn’t it?
And then, one bright spring day, Tyler and I were hiking around our favorite nature preserve and he was behind me as we made our way up one of the trails. I suddenly realized he wasn’t responding to the question I had just asked, and so I turned around and there he was, down on one knee, staring up at me. The world pretty much stopped at that point and I started kind of hyperventilating because, I’m not going to lie, I had dreamt of this moment pretty much forever. Not necessarily with Tyler, since I hadn’t known him all my life of course, but with some not-yet-named leading man, and not necessarily on a hike, but that was fine, although this scenario usually played out on a deserted beach with waves crashing around us, and us sinking down simultaneously onto the sand, sealing the deal with a passionate kiss because to my younger self, that was the epitome of romance and true love. Maybe because my mom used to have me watch old movies with her when I was little, and her favorite had been “From Here to Eternity,” and she didn’t even cover my eyes when the famous kiss between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr burned up the screen. That was my idea of romance for so many years, that long, passionate kiss, lying in the sand on the beach. Anyway, in spite of Tyler’s proposal not being anything close to this scene, it was still pretty sweet and romantic and he definitely knew how to kiss me until every part of my body, inside and out, was tingling. I breathlessly told him, ‘Yes!’ and he planted the most spectacular ruby ring on my finger which made me love him even more because he had remembered a conversation we had once about rings when I said I didn’t want a diamond if we ever did get engaged.
But, within a day, reality hit like a block of ice crashing onto our heads.
We told Aunt Ginny first, and she was thrilled, hugging and kissing us and even shedding a few tears which was most unlike her. Tyler called his parents and told them he had something to discuss and that he and I would be over the next morning for brunch if that was OK. I only heard his end of the conversation and it was already making me nervous.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I’ll take care of everything.”
I knew he was sure he could, so I tried to believe it. We met his parents at their spectacular home. I was carrying a large bouquet of flowers that we had picked up along the way, and we found his parents on the second level of the three-level deck in their backyard, with a table set with more food than I had ever seen in one place at one time at an actual person’s house. The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains took my breath away. I tried to make sure my mouth wasn’t hanging open as I handed the flowers to Mrs. Davenport #1, who received them with a tight smile and a barely audible thank-you, remarking how she didn’t know they still put pink roses in floral arrangements, and then handed them off to a young woman in a uniform who immediately whisked them off into the bowels of the house. Tyler’s dad gave me a bear hug as he had the first time we had met, and insisted we sit down and start eating immediately, like he was afraid we might pass out from starvation. There were lots of eggs and bacon and sausages, the smell of which started making me feel queasy, but I made sure to keep a smile plastered on my face the entire time. There were also biscuits and gravy and a big bowl of fresh fruit. Mrs. Davenport #1 observed me like a hawk as I carefully spooned some pineapple and berries onto my plate and placed a biscuit on the side.
“So, what’s your news, son?” Mr. Davenport asked heartily, piling everything in sight onto his plate.
Tyler cleared his throat. “Well, Mom and Dad, I proposed to Katie yesterday and she said yes, so we will be getting married. I hope you’re as happy about adding Katie to our family as I am.”
Everyone froze in time for a moment, until Mr. Davenport slapped Tyler on the back, stood and hugged me, then raised his glass. “What great news!” he said, nodding to his wife. “Isn’t it, honey?”
Mrs. Davenport #1 wasn’t going to let a little glitch like her son planning to marry a most unsuitable girl keep her from exhibiting the good manners she had been brought up with. At least not while she was sober.
“I’m very happy for you, Tyler, if you have found the woman who will make you happy.”
“Here’s to the lovebirds!” Mr. Davenport said a little too enthusiastically. Then he downed his mimosa in one gulp.
Mrs. Davenport #1 suddenly developed a headache and left the table.
If Tyler wasn’t such an amazing person, I can’t say I would have gone through with the engagement. But I did love him so much and, no matter what, he was always on my side. He understood that I didn’t want a big spectacle of a wedding, but preferred a small, tasteful ceremony and reception outdoors, somewhere near the water with just very close friends and family attending. He didn’t want to tell me too many details of his mother’s reaction, but finally admitted she had pitched a fit but that he held strong. He kept me and his mother away from each other as much as possible. Until the engagement party which his mother insisted on holding at their house.
I was a basket case about the whole thing, starting with what I was going to wear. My friends Stacey and Mandy went shopping with me until we all agreed on a seafoam-colored silk halter dress with a plunging neckline, a statement necklace to help fill in the gaps, and adorable copper-colored sandals with little beads. We went for spray tans and then mani-pedis, got our hair cut and highlighted, and we were all set. Except for my two best friends, their spouses, and Aunt Ginny, I really didn’t have anyone else I wanted to invite. I mean I did have a few other friends and some distant cousins, but no one I felt close enough to that I wanted to subject them to what was sure to be an embarrassing spectacle. Little did I know how accurate that concern would turn out to be.
Tyler and I arrived just as the festivities were beginning. His eyes had lit up when he came to pick up me and Aunt Ginny, and that was all I needed to know about how he felt about me in spite of the mess with his mother. Servers walked around with little plates of hors d’oeuvres which, oddly enough, were all meat-based. I say ‘oddly enough’ sarcastically, in case you didn’t pick up on that. I mean, you might have thought that his mother would have made some kind of meatless option available – even just one – considering I was one of the stars of the show that night, but apparently not. It was a pretty strong statement, but I bit my tongue until I was sure I had bit all the way through. I wasn’t hungry anyway. Tyler led me through the growing crowd to meet his parents’ friends who all seemed to love him, and who all surreptitiously appraised me and politely congratulated us. It was apparent that word about the unsuitable future daughter-in-law had been plastered on the feeds of their local Facebook groups and everyone was in accord with the final verdict; it definitely was not in my favor.
Mrs. Davenport #1 never seemed to be without a drink in her hand. I noticed her eyes seemed to be getting glassy and saw her almost teeter over a few times. I looked around and was glad to see that Stacey, Mandy, and their husbands were keeping Aunt Ginny company and they all seemed to be having a good time. I had managed to stay away from Mrs. Davenport #1 throughout most of the party, except when we first arrived and we had to endure a fake smile and air kiss from her as we thanked her for the party.
Just before the dessert trays started being brought around, Mr. Davenport made his way over to his wife and caught her elbow before she lost her balance once more. He tapped his glass with a spoon and called out, “Everyone, I’d like to make a toast to my son and his soon-to-be bride, so if you’d please raise your glass. Tyler and Katie, why don’t you come over and stand with us.”
Tyler took my hand and brought me over to where his parents were standing. Tyler grabbed a glass of champagne for himself. I had been drinking ginger ale for most of the evening and was sure no one really cared what I was drinking, as long as I was holding something in my hand. But, as usual, I had underestimated the vindictiveness of Mrs. Davenport #1.
“Katie, don’t tell me you’re not going to do a champagne toast with the rest of us?” came the slightly slurred and grating voice of Mrs. Davenport #1 aimed like a missile right at my heart.
I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. Tyler tried to come to my rescue. “She has a drink, Mother,” he said tightly.
“That’s not a proper drink,” she insisted. “Waiter, a glass of champagne for the bride-to-be,” she called out, grabbing a glass from the waiter’s tray and shoving it at me. I had no choice but to take it. Tyler’s face was turning redder than a fire engine as he glared at his mother.
“To Tyler and Katie!” Mr. Davenport said, downing his champagne. Most of the guests repeated his words and downed their champagne as well. But Mrs. Davenport #1, Tyler, and I stood frozen like we were taking part in some kind of medieval tableau. Finally, Tyler took the champagne from my hand and placed it back on the waiter’s tray. Mrs. Davenport #1 drank her champagne in one gulp and placed it on the tray as well.
“We look forward to having you all join us at the wedding, which will be the biggest affair of the summer,” Mrs. Davenport #1 said gaily, and she hiccupped loudly. “Oops,” she said.
Tyler stared at his mother, then looked at me and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Then he turned to the guests and said, “Well, Mother, it seems that this is a good time to announce that there isn’t going to be a wedding.”
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Mrs. Davenport #1 exclaimed, fanning herself. “I’m glad you finally came to your senses.” She turned to me. “No offense, dear.”
You could hear a pin drop. Southerners live for this kind of drama as much as their real-life TV shows, and they were making sure they didn’t miss a minute of it.
Tyler cleared his throat and grabbed my hand. “There isn’t going to be a wedding because Katie and I plan to elope. It will just be her and me and the deep blue sea. I hope you all have enjoyed this little party and I thank you for coming. Now, we will say our good-byes.”
We turned and found Stacey, Mandy, their husbands, and Aunt Ginny, and we marched out in unison without ever looking back.
It’s been five years now since Tyler and I got married, and our little wedding by the sea was everything I had ever dreamed of. We are now the parents of two beautiful little girls and we are living our best lives in Australia. It, too, has been everything we ever dreamed of.