Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2003

Got one? You have if you’re married. They come in different sizes and shapes. They also come charming, helpful, critical, and nosey. Let me tell you of mine. Frank and I eloped so she knew nothing about me. (Neither did Frank.) My parents got a telegram saying I was now a Mrs. Frank, never said how he informed his, and I was too busy being Mrs. Doctor to ask.

Well, now it was time to and all I hear was she and his dad came over from Italy. They spoke little English and were far from modern in their living. Lucky me! Frank got some leave and we were off for New York City. An apartment was their home – big, many floors and not beautiful. Inside I met Mama Arena. I was looked over from head to toe and back! Was she pleased? I have no idea. She spoke in Italian to Frank. He answered in English so I got an idea what was being discussed. Here’s the gist: I was to understand the Italian husband is the king of the household (I just dethroned him). He is never wrong in this marriage. Well, Mama Arena, that goes by the boards. Frank is answering her but looking at me. Not saying a word to me, but begging me silently to understand. He is dying there. I’m so mad I’m letting him die and he knows it. King? He can find a new queen. Never wrong? I’m Irish and educated so say no more. At this rate I was wishing Frank were an orphan, and I hadn’t met Papa yet. My family used dad, never papa. It would be difficult for me to even say the word. What had I gotten myself into? Then I took one look at Frank and thought, &uot;Poor Baby, he’s dying slowly through all this.&uot; So I looked beyond mama.

Well, we had the war. My hero came home to a year-old-daughter and a charming wife. Off we went and bought a house in Yonkers. Lovely, sprawling, big house. Mama did inquire how much and we both avoided answering her.

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Mama A. was a great cook. She could make anything except desserts – cakes, pies and the like. I concentrated on that area and became great at it – no bragging. I was competing in this. I won hands down.

Years later we are about to have child No. 3. Frank asked if I’d mind if his mother came and stayed to look after one and two while I was in the hospital. How could I say no? So up she came! For her it was like moving to the country. I didn’t care much – I was fat and ugly. How many times Frank assured me it was not true but he was supposed to say that. Mama said nothing.

Here’s how we got along: The fireplace in the living room had a mantel with a fancy brass bowl and two matching candles in brass holders. Very pretty. When Mama would come down from upstairs she would go to the fireplace and bring the candles in close to the bowl. I would follow her and spread them. Later she’d put them close – I’d separate them. This would go on all day. In close, far apart. My house, but how could you tell?

Finally nature took over. Off I went and child No. three arrived – a girl. Came bargain time. Frank promised a diamond watch if I’d name her Teresa after his mother. How do you say no to diamonds? And she did take care of my house and two kids. She never was to know she cost Frank a diamond watch. She expressed surprise at the gift since it wasn’t my birthday. I learned to hate those candles and replaced them. Bowl also. I present to you Teresa Marie Arena II – or can I use Jr.? Take your pick!

Florence Arena is a resident of Hillcrest Retirement Center and a regular News-Herald columnist.