The mother-in-law joke is one of the lowest forms of humor, and one of the oldest. Adam probably bored Eve with mother-in-law jokes, even though neither of them had one. OK, they may not be quite that old, but there is some historical evidence that the mother-in-law joke existed as far back as Roman times.
Sorry, but I’ve never found them all that funny, which may be because I really liked my mother-in-law. For some reason she liked me, too, so we got along great. I realize that is not a universal human experience; I was lucky, I guess.
Many years ago, my wife and I were with some friends who didn’t have cordial relations with their relations, and they weren’t holding back. To hear them tell it, their in-laws were… well, you know: “she’s so awful, rabid dogs run away from her,” and so on. And they had horror stories to support their claims that they had unwittingly married into a coven.
Finally, one of our friends noticed that I had been uncharacteristically silent. “Wait, wait,” he said to the others, and then he turned to me. “Tom, we’ve all complained about our in-laws for years, but you’ve never said anything negative about yours. Come on — I want to hear one bad thing about your mother-in-law.”
I thought about it for a while, and all I could come up with was this: “When she gives me a kiss, she leaves a smudge of lipstick on my cheek.” That lame response earned derisive hoots from my friends, but it was the best I could do on short notice.
Doris Stephens was my mother-in-law for over forty years, and it’s still the only complaint I have about her. Although she did make me very sad the other day — she went and died on us, a couple of weeks short of her 91st birthday.
There are a lot of us who loved her, and who will miss that lipstick smudge on our cheeks.