January 5, 2012
My mother-in-law is better than yours.


Mrs P. always tells me how sweet she thinks it is that I call her “Mom.” And the thing is, I don’t remember how or when it started. There was no premeditation. I didn’t think it through, never asked myself, or her, what to call her. It seems conceivable that I should’ve gone through a phase of calling her “Mrs. Permenter” before Jason and I were married, or adopted my brother-in-law’s very lovely “Miss Joyce.” I could’ve at least consulted with her on what name would be acceptable to her. None of that happened. It was “Mom” from day one.

As she pointed out over the holidays, it was only the third time we hung out. The first time was when she came to San Francisco for our wedding. The second was last Christmas. And yet, there we were, gossiping, joking around and giggling as if we’d known one another a lifetime.

Everyone who’s met her for a few minutes always describes her as the sweetest southern lady you’ll ever meet. It’s all true, but the better I know her, the more I realize the sweet lady thing is something she cultivates so as not to blow her cover.

So I’m going to tell you in confidence: Mrs Permenter is really a badass. Mrs Permenter may well have invented badass. Don’t tell anyone, because her biggest asset is the element of surprise. It may take time before you see it, but one of the little ways in which this comes out it is her sense of humor: cutting, outrageous, impeccably timed, and capable of turning a bad situation into a hilarious one.

The jokes are just the tip of the iceberg. Mom is 5’4” of pure authority. The stories of her bending the toughest guys to her will abound, but there’s nothing like seeing her in action: when she steps up to someone and stares them down, for example, or when her voice goes stern on the telephone and you can feel the person shrinking on the other end. Or when she wraps you up in kindness, you do something exactly the way she likes, and you end up thanking her for the chance to please her. She doesn’t just solve problems, you see. She “disappears” them.

You want Mrs Permenter on your side, because there’s nothing (and no one) she won’t take on. This is a lady who worked her whole adult life (except for a couple of years) and found the strength and time to raise three children. She lost her beloved husband at age 49 and took care of her 11-year-old boy alone (Jason, the youngest). At 76 years old, she manages a real-estate company, carries a pager and a cellphone and answers dozens of calls a day. She’s still the go-to person when any of her three children and three grandchildren need advice and support. Everything she’s ever done, she’s done it for her family. There is no stopping her. Try, and you will be squashed like a miserable bug.

Mrs Permenter’s is an iron hand in a velvet glove. I adore her for it. That she would welcome me into the family and treat me like a daughter is a privilege. For a number of reasons, she didn’t have the easiest of years, but you wouldn’t know it to see her. She never complains, never lets up. She told Jason that the past 10 days may have been the happiest she had in 2011. It’s a real joy to have been there. Being around her feels like home to me, and I can’t thank her enough for that.

— From SF.

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