Q. If your writer who was a Hatfield identified herself as a native of West Virginia, my home state, then I might have some insight into why this person, as you put it, needed to become less thin-skinned. People from Hatfield and McCoy country are often maligned by people who have never visited this beautiful part of our country to see its majestic mountains, lakes, and streams. Appalachia and its people are frequently the butt of tasteless jokes (incest, having no teeth, and so on). Over time, this wears on people, as much as any negative, hurtful stereotype wears on other groups who are the objects of ridicule based on color, religion, or geography.
Now living in the Northeast, I find the ignorance of many people in other locations in our country pretty astonishing. No one can seem to recall that West Virginia has had statehood since the Civil War, and that its secession from Virginia came about because of anti-slavery fervor.
Regarding the Hatfields and the McCoys, just because it’s “history” doesn’t mean it’s good or positive.
A. You make some valid points, for which I thank you. History, however, ought not be discussed only if it is good or positive. As for your beautiful home state, I did spend five weeks in Harpers Ferry with a movie company, and it is beautiful in a hardscrabble way. I was also informed by the then secretary of state that I was no longer welcome there because of a piece I wrote for TV Guide. (I never had occasion to find out whether he could make good on his word.)
Q. I just had to write you about the letter concerning “Another Pushy M-I-L.” The situation described sounds all too familiar, as I am currently in the process of dissolving my marriage to a woman whose mother expressed similar vitriol. Some days my wife would just shrug and say, “That’s just how my mom is,” and other days she would dance to the tune of whatever music her mother was playing.
I strongly encourage all people in these types of situations to enlist the spouse’s help in either quieting the M-I-L or enforcing a persona-non-grata law if they cannot be civil. When we married, it was tolerable. When we had a child, she was worse. And when we moved closer to her, it became egregious. I’m not going to detail the blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say she would explode into screaming if I suggested she leash a troublesome dog.
If the spouse stays neutral or, even worse, defends the vicious behavior, you will be passing through a private hell every time this person enters your life: big events, holidays, and so on.
I used to think two people in love could live harmoniously no matter what families said or did. I still do, but with a caveat: If someone is toxic in a family and is allowed to stick around and pour poison freely, they will ruin the relationship. And God help you if you have children, because nobody will see any problem with bad-mouthing the parent who fled the craziness. Thousands of dollars for therapy, lawyers, and court later, the children will be the ones who suffer most.
A. Feel better now? When a mother-in-law runs roughshod over the in-law spouse, it is usually the case that she has done the same to the child. This may or may not be obvious before marriage. There are some happy endings, though, when an interfering, destructive M-I-L is invited by her offspring to take a hike. I must say that I have had a few good ones, and I try very hard myself to be a “good” one.
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