We appear to be on a roll when it comes to stories of drugging bad guests (which are really stories about how hard it can be to have people visit you overseas). Of course, I have no personal stories as no trolls are ever given leeway to stay with me. But others, alas, do not seem to have their life quite so organized, so I offer these stories as warning lessons. This, of course, is the old-fashioned way of managing things, but heed those who have gone before you, verily does friendly solidarity rescue a person in need.
Eglantine had prickly in-laws, yet all was controllable until they moved overseas. Her father-in-law was fine, a little silent and stand-offish, but observing all the normal forms of politeness. The mother-in-law, Ida, who had been pleasant enough at home, became plain obnoxious when she visited Eglantine. She veered between over-complimenting Eglantine and stinging comments. Ida would obsessively clean, making it clear that Eglantine was slovenly, then insist on buying Eglantine presents.
Eglantine could not figure out what was going on – it was impossible to have a straight-forward conservation and, of course, her husband was no help what so ever. But my friend April knew the secret to getting people to talk.
Eglantine was told to wait until her husband and father-in-law were ut of the house for a few hours, then April arrived with packets of flavored coffee. She went into the kitchen to heat the water. In the kitchen, she opened the outside door and took in the bag she had stashed there which had small bottles of vodka, Baileys and peppermint schnapps. They were all living in corporate housing so everyone had the same cups and April concocted a potent cup of booze disguised with cream and coffee powder to give Ida, the mother-in-law, then made two plain cups of coffee with chocolate powder for herself and Eglantine.
April brought the cups into the living room, made sure the mother-in-law got the booze and (such wisdom) turned up the AC so it was cold enough to make Ida drink quickly to get warm. Then April made a second round with the peppermint schnapps for mother-in-law and peppermint flavoring for her and Eglantine.
After Ida gulped hers down, April went back to the kitchen and Eglantine, under April’s orders, sat right next to her mother-in-law and asked, “Why are you upset with me?” Appallingly drunk mother-in-law spilled a toxic mix of hate and fear – she was sure that Eglantine was the reason her dear son moved to a foreign country and now Eglantine was not treating dear son well so that dear son was sure to leave Eglantine, find a local girl, change his religion and never see his mother again.
Well, at least that was all out on the table.
April put the booze and the cup mother-in-law drank from back in her bag and set it outside the kitchen door. Then she turned on the extractor fan and swirled some of her leftover coffee into another cup.
Eglantine’s husband and father-in-law arrived home to Ida babbling angry gibberish as Eglantine and April tried to calm her. Her husband and son listened to the unhinged ranting for a few moments, then Ida’s husband went into the kitchen. Eglantine could hear him prowling around but of course there was nothing to find except 3 coffee cups, all with the dregs of innocent peppermint-favored coffee.
The next morning, Ida got up and had her breakfast quietly, no more snark at Eglantine, no more cleaning and no one ever talked of that night again.
And, as we are talking about horror stories of in-laws, here is another about how, in cases of crisis, one must do one’s part. This is the story of Hildebert who was nice enough, but not too friendly with her neighbors, the stodgy stay-at-home wives of her husband’s colleagues. She had a degree and work of her own and did not have time for the silly chatter of “the old cats” as she called them.
Then her parents-in-law came to visit. Her mother-in-law walked in the door, took her 18-month granddaughter out of Hildebert’s hands and said, “Your mother is here! Your real mother is here!” Hildebert was too stunned say anything and the baby was an unusually placid child so she didn’t fuss. Then the mother-in-law announced, “She looks like she needs some air, let’s go take a ride, just us, just family,” and marched out the door with the baby, her husband and son following her.
Hildebert was stunned speechless for a few moments, then she started howling. One of the “old cats” who lived next door (who told me this story years later) heard her and ran over, thinking there was a snake in the house. When she realized, through Hildebert’s sobs, what had happened, she called the other old cats and they went to work.
One sat as watchguard at the front of the complex to warn the others when the wretched in-laws would return, one took ahold of Hildebert and got her into a cold shower. Two started cleaning and another two filled the kitchen with every healthy thing they could find.
The in-laws and useless husband were gone three hours. Hildebert was talked out of suicide, drinking, divorce and murder over and over. “Don’t say a thing,” the old cats warned. “Not a word, we will deal with this. Don’t talk.” When the watchguard said that the in-laws were returning, they warned her again, “Don’t say anything when they come back! We will go now and come back soon – don’t talk!”
Ten minutes later, in walks mother-in-law with the child and bags of “real” food for “my baby.” Hildebert somehow stopped herself from saying anything, then the doorbell rang. It was a group of old cats come to welcome the in-laws.
The mother-in-law was trying to get the girl to drink juice from a cup and the fun began, “Oh, you are giving her grape juice, oh, that’s fine, yes of course, usually Hildebert hand-presses the grapes but I am sure that’s fine. Store-bought juice is just as good as hand-pressed. Oh, you bought crackers for her. Lovely! Hildebert usually bakes her own crackers, but I am sure these are just as healthy.”
It went on and on. The old cats stopped by all the time and they each insisted that THEY were the child’s mother, saying “give me my baby!” and “that’s not the way to hold my daughter” to each other.
Also, everything the in-laws did received polite comments comparing their choices with Hildebert’s (with lots of comments about “my baby”). “Oh you bought my baby a polyester shirt, such a good idea! Hildebert only uses hand-spun cotton and I am sure that’s not necessary.”
“Oh, you have a new hat for my baby, how pretty! Hildebert only uses South Carolina marsh grass hats and I am positive that any kind of hat is fine for my child.”
“Oh, you took my baby out for pancakes for breakfast, that sounds lovely! Hildebert always makes her pancakes from scratch but that takes so much time!”
And Hildebert said not a word. The mother-in-law complained to her son, but he and his father stayed far away from the fray.
A week after his parents left, feckless husband came home to an empty house. No Hildebert. No daughter. No note. (This was in the days before cell phones). He went round to the neighbors – no one had any information. He paced, he wondered if he should call the police, he drove to the nearby stores. After four hours, the husband of one of the “cat’s” came over and said, “A couple of hours is a long time when you don’t know where someone you love is.” Useless husband agreed and burbled on about his worry until somehow (with some men it takes a while) he understood the point and stopped talking.
“If you ever let your mom disappear with your child, your wife will kill you and not a jury in the land will convict her,” he was told. Then the cat’s husband left and Mr. Feckless had a long night to himself to think over his life choices. The next day when he returned from work, Hildebert and child were back home and thus did he learn that he would honor all his mother’s whims or he could stay married. One or the other. Not both.
May this be a lesson unto you.
Old guards and newbies overseas
How to Deal with Difficult House Guests
Organizing Guest Rooms (for when you like your Guests)