My mother-in-law, Barbara or Bobby Hull, died last Monday morning. It felt unexpected, although she was 95, but she was fine on Mother’s Day, and seemed to be planning to go on for some time more. In retrospect, we are all grateful that she died peacefully with her three children at her bedside, and had lived her life pretty much as she wished.
If you saw her obituary online or in one of the Island papers, you would have seen Bobby as I remember her best. The accompanying photograph showed her smiling, sitting on her porch in a curly wrought iron chair, in a place and circumstance that was so commonplace. It was the place we gathered in the summer, on the southwest corner of her house, open to cool breezes and spectacular sunsets across the meadow. I have so many memories of all of us together. Drinks, conversations, funny comments, potato salad. I have Bobby’s yellowware potato salad bowl now.
A stand of lilacs in full bloom on the corner of Mike’s and my house came from an offshoot of the lilac bush at Bobby and Richard’s. Richard brought it over one morning just after Mike and I moved into our house. “Every Vineyard house has to have a stand of lilacs by the door,” he said. That tiny shoot has become a huge shrub that makes a fragrant display every spring. It’s blooming now.
I can shut my eyes and see photographs of Bobby wearing a bathing suit at Quansoo or Red Beach, surrounded by beach umbrellas and children, towels and coolers. She looked like a pin-up girl when she was young. Saddle shoes and twinsets. Slender with curly hair pinned up with a barrette. I watched her and Richard grow up through those photographs. Janice and Danny, too. Bud and Judy. Rose and Bob. Hull and Tyack grandparents. And all the children, my husband, Mike, his brother and sister and cousins, eventually grandchildren.
Bobby was younger than I am now when we met, she and Richard both, young and eager, newly retired to their house in the meadow. She remained a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, always learning something new. Antiques and finances were her passions, and she knew a lot. Mike always said we could have been wealthy if we had let Mom handle our retirement money. But we did buy or were given a few antiques, and a lot of advice.
Bobby and her best friend, Norma Salop, who referred to herself as my “other mother,” took credit for introducing Mike and me. Norma’s Cove Hollow Antiques and my gallery in Edgartown were next door to each other in the same building. Norma would have meetings with Mike on Saturday afternoons about the guest house he was building for the Salops. Bobby had some paintings she asked me to sell for her. Both she and Norma told me that Mike knew a lot about Island history and could help me identify some early prints I had bought. On some of those Saturday afternoons, he did. I found out later that he asked his friends Dick Burt and Harry Athearn to help, and they did, on the porch at Alley’s where they are still to be found today. I still have the notes that Mike brought to me.
Those who know me well know that Bobby and I didn’t always get along. We both had strong opinions on lots of subjects, and I had grown up in a different family. I had lived alone many years after both my parents died, and I didn’t need or want to be told how to do everything by my mother-in-law. It was funny in a way, as she often told me a story about her mother-in-law offering advice, admonishments, opinions, call it what you will, and young bride Bobby, in a fit of pique, telling her, “I think I know how to bake biscuits on my own, Mother.” Still, she told me everything about everything, and I was always wrong.
That said, there were times when I felt close to her. In many ways I admired and even loved her. I was glad that by the time she died, I think we were at peace with one another. Our last visits had been pleasant, and she always kissed me goodbye.
My inheritance from Bobby is her cat. I was with her when she brought Katey home from the Animal Shelter. She asked me to promise to take care of Katey should anything happen to her. I promised. Mike brought Katey home Monday afternoon. She is a sweet calico cat with very pretty black and orange markings on her mostly white body, easy to love, although Mona seems intent on fighting that sentiment. Nanuk and Nelson are neutral. Katey seems curious and wanting to be part of the family. Three cats. More news to follow.