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The Dowry

January 27, 2014

I should have listened better when my future wife told me her grandmother was evil. I mean, how evil could she be? How could anyone as sweet and caring as my future Mrs. Chatterbox be related to anyone evil? I was young and not knowledgeable in the ways of the world. And I should have listened better.


I came from a huge Portuguese family and when I brought the future Mrs. C. home to meet everyone she must have felt like that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where a lamb was being roasted on the front lawn while everyone partied, except all of the males were named Frank instead of Nick.


All memories of my grandparents are wonderful. Mrs. C’s are not. Her grandmother never sent birthday cards, Christmas gifts or any acknowledgement that she existed. I’d heard stories of how tight Granny Salter was with a buck, burying her husband in cardboard shoes and showing up at the nearest bus station for lengthy visits—after placing a collect call to herself to avoid paying for a phone call alerting Mrs. C’s dad that she needed to be picked up. From what I’ve gathered, Granny’s favorite pastime was baiting her daughters and pitting them against each other.


But when I first met this tiny grey haired lady I couldn’t believe the stories I’d heard. She’d shown up at my future inlaws’ door with her daughter, crazy Aunt Peg (who I’ll get to in a future post.) By this time Mrs. C. and I were engaged, and it seemed only fitting that I ingratiate myself with her relatives, in spite of what I’d heard.


Granny mentioned that she was interested in visiting the famous Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, and never one to miss out on an opportunity to visit a museum I offered to serve as chauffeur. I can still remember holding the door for Granny and Aunt Peg, and chatting politely so they’d see what a fine young man was joining the family.


Granny had been to the Rosicrucian Museum before and knew where it was located. She timed her attack with precision. When we were several blocks away, I checked the rearview mirror and saw that her demeanor had darkened. She barked at me, ordering me to pull the car to the curb. I quickly complied. For a moment I thought she was carsick, until she said with venom dripping from her tongue, “You’re not smart enough to fool me. You have no interest in my grand-daughter except to get your hands on a big fat dowry. That’s all people like you care about.” Aunt Peg piped in with insults of her own. 


Honestly, at the time I had no idea what a dowry was, but I seriously doubted I was expecting one. Shock set in; although I’ve always been a chatterbox, able to hold my own in a conversation, I’d never been subjected to such a verbal assault by adults, people who didn’t even know me.


After fifteen minutes of listening to their hateful diatribes I exited the car, walked around and opened the passenger doors. “Get the f**k out of my car!” I said. They sneered as they complied, and I drove off.


I felt terrible, but Mrs. C’s mom apologized to me when I explained what had happened. Granny and Aunt Peg arrived home by bus a few hours later. They made no mention of “The Dowry Conversation” or me abandoning them. Several days later they picked a fight with Mrs. C’s mom and stormed out of the house. I later learned this was a common departure plan; their bags had been packed before the argument.


After our wedding I came to understand that Mrs. C’s relatives were to be tolerated like nasty weather, their insults ignored. But I do thank Granny for producing Mrs. C’s wonderful mother, who managed to break the circle of abuse so prevalent in her own childhood, and who accepted me into the family with open arms.


By the way, now that I know what a dowry is, I’m still waiting for one. 





If you'd known what a dowry was you could have demanded she give you some sheep or goats or other livestock like back in the old days. Which I always thought would be kind of insulting to the woman to know she was worth like a goat and a couple chickens. Though in a lot of marriages nowadays it's the man who ends up having to give a dowry when the woman divorces him and takes half his stuff.
By: PT Dilloway on January 27, 2014
I have had similar relatives on my side as well as my wifes. Full of drama, and never a dull moment.
By: David Walston on January 27, 2014
Thank God neither Bud nor I ever had any relatives like that!!
By: fishducky on January 27, 2014
So, where did they fit their brooms? In the trunk?
By: Al Penwasser on January 27, 2014
You're a braver person than me. I would have run from the family. I'm glad you found the ones who were normal.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on January 27, 2014
What an awful experience for you to have had as a young man but then it's easy to tell from your posts just how happy Mrs C and you have been through the years. Thank you for sharing another great story with us.
By: Sharon Bradshaw on January 27, 2014
Good for you â telling them to get the eff out. I'm not that brave. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 27, 2014
I take it nobody got to the museum that day? Well, you did great to put your foot down and send them off. They probably respected you more for it, though it's a very ugly experience. My paternal grandparents were lousy to my mom when they first met her too. Sadly, some people enjoy attacking the family newbie. Glad the pattern stopped with your MIL. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on January 27, 2014
Boy you should meet my mother and then tell her to eff off, I'd like to see how that would end! Ha. Joking.
By: LL Cool Joe on January 27, 2014
Some people's relatives! It's a blessing not to have any like that around here.
By: mimi on January 27, 2014
Interesting narration...I wonder how you remember details of such an old incident. Loved reading it till the end.. Dowry is a common thing in India. Ppl are greedy here. That's the reason for such high rates of female infanticide and wife-burning episodes. Things are ugly here. Spiteful relatives are a part of life.. I feel happy for you to have a great Mom-in-law and a caring wife! :)
By: Manju on January 27, 2014
Man - I think I would have burst into tears! Guess it's good that you got mad instead :)
By: The Bug on January 27, 2014
The thing about a dowry is it's not retroactive. Besides, hasn't Mrs. C being pay for years? I'm saddened by how cruel some family member can be, but it fascinates me that people (like Mrs. C's mother) instinctively know that there's a better way to be and break the chain. I admire you for kicking them out of the car. I would have probably been their doormat.
By: Mitchell is Moving on January 27, 2014
oh, i LOVE that your mil was/is a dear woman! and that dreadful person she sprang from is but a memory, i'm guessing.
By: TexWisGirl on January 27, 2014
Oh, dowrys are great...well, at least the cattle were. Not so much the goats, though. I'll bet it really pained her to part with bus fare. :)
By: Scott Cody Park on January 27, 2014
Looks like you'll be waiting a long time for that dowry!
By: Franklin Bruce Taylor on January 27, 2014
Holy hell. Can't wait to hear about Aunt Peg.
By: Diane Laney Fitzpatrick on January 27, 2014
Good grief, my mouth is still open. How on earth did your MIL make it out of there to become normal and sweet. What a woman.
By: Akansas Patti on January 27, 2014
Wow - some family! I got lucky - my in-laws are so sweet that I always joke if we ever were to get divorced, my husband would get the house and I would get his parents. Ha.
By: Pixel Peeper on January 27, 2014
They don't know how lucky they were that you didn't have a bucket of dirty mop water handy...
By: Val on January 27, 2014
I am from a family who is insistant upon trying to extract money from my elderly aunt, well get in line she is sharp as a tack and at almost 100 knows all the ruses in the books! I have always felt badly she outlived my mother by it seems a hundred years, my grandmother her Mom since 1969 and is all alone, married 3 times to men who wanted her money and nothing else, she was a looker and still is good looking for 98, sharp as can be, I try to call and chat I want only to see her nothing more, she knows I am true to my late mother and my late grandmother, to think she is the last of my Mother's family hurts like hell..I don't think one should treat any family member terribly money or otherwise but really there are a lot of relatives who are how shall I say it tactfully, just plain late mother in law thought my husband was at her beck and call, we lived in another state, and long distance we never went over there much, she said she loved me but acted funny and strange, I never treated her shabbily and we paid for her final things at the funeral place, but I never let her talk to me rudely, she adored our only child a girl no other girls were born until she had already passed from this life, you just don't treat people like shit and then expect them to kiss your don't!
By: mjs on January 27, 2014
It would be a very rue shock to meet up with people as twisted as these two.
By: red on January 27, 2014
I never get tired of reading about your stories. You have a way of entertaining people and I must say that your blog is my favorite to read. I always walk away with a smile on my face and some lesson learned.
By: JarieLyn on January 27, 2014
oh my have had an interesting life with many contributing folks, good and grandma. This was great.. Thanks so much, I needed a giggle tonight. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on January 27, 2014
I count it as a good fortune to never have known the evil granny. I applaud your steel for telling her to get out of your car. That had to be memorable for her as well.
By: Tom Cochrun on January 27, 2014
Woooowwww---- what an experience! And it is wonderful that your mother-in-law was able to break through that and begin the cycle of good.
By: Shelly on January 28, 2014
A peek into the CC temper that takes a bit to simmer but does in fact boil over. Ain't families fun. I donated to that other dowry twice. Without it I would be blogging from Hawaii.
By: Cranky on January 28, 2014
I have some loony relatives, but I think now I should take it a bit easier on them, it doesn't sound like they could hold a birthday candle to that bunch! Yeep! Cat
By: Cat on January 28, 2014
That must have been quite a surprise, Stephen. Ouch!
By: Michael Manning on January 28, 2014
Strange how that here can be such diverse people in one family. And well dome to Mrs C's Mom for breaking the cycle.
By: John on January 29, 2014
I think you won the lotto when you married Mrs. C
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 29, 2014
Boy, Mrs. C. wasn't kidding when she said they were evil. I am really proud of you that you took a stand. I am such a marshmallow that I would of let them walk all over me. I can't imagine what possesses people to be that hateful.
By: Cheryl P. on January 29, 2014
wow! and yes, i agree. kudos to your MIL for breaking the cycle and for mrs chatterbox for following her mom's example.
By: lime on February 3, 2014

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