She was from a different era, when people were polite and grounded. She had three children, and I was married to one of them. Having her as my mother-in-law was a gift. Annie (Anna Shillo), was a no nonsense woman who was practical, warm, deeply loving and she was solid as a rock. She came from a time when life expectations were different and simple. Having a good job, food on the table, a roof over your head and healthy children were considered blessings. In a way, it was a time filled with more gratitude than today. It’s one thing to say you’re grateful and another thing to live in the space of gratitude for all that you have. She lived that life.
Annie was the mother and wife I could only aspire to but never become. She would pack lunches, bake a pie and do a load of laundry from start to finish before she left for work in the early morning hours. The first time I showed up at her home with her son who was wearing a poorly pressed shirt, she gave me some side eye and then asked him to take off his shirt so she could iron it properly. I just wasn’t that kind of wife – I was from California, Los Angeles to be specific. That was the best excuse I had.
She was a lifesaver when I gave birth to my son. My mother was living in London at the time with a very demanding life and I didn’t know many people in my new east coast home town. She and my father-in-law, Peter, were the two people who showed up at the hospital at what was a profound and slightly lonely time for me. They were proud of their first grandson, and that was rewarding feeling for me – I felt I had done good.
Through the years I was included in a type of family life that was new to me, it was Americana with a twist of Russian. Devout Russian Orthodox, they were church going people and while they weren’t vocal about their religious beliefs, their lives were rooted both spiritually and socially around their church. While I didn’t share their religion, I thoroughly enjoyed the grounded, consistent and reliable nature of their lives, and how I was a part of it.
My marriage to Annie’s son didn’t last but my relationships with my ex-husband and his family did. In fact, the way we handled our divorce and ongoing friendship is an achievement I am very proud of. We worked hard at cultivating a new type of relationship for the sake of our son and for each other. It turned out to be a rich and important gift to all of us.
Last August at my niece’s wedding, I saw Annie one last time. It was an emotional meeting. She wept when she saw me, then I cried, and we hugged for a long time. It had been many years since I had seen her, and I had missed her. Her husband had recently passed away after more than seventy years of marriage. Their bond was as real as it gets. This was not the case of two people staying together just because they had made a verbal commitment to each other, this was deep, unwavering love.
On July 11th, Annie passed away from this earth at ninety-three years old to join her Peter. The two of them lived full lives leaving their legacy of wonderful children, the brightest grandchildren, and a beautiful new great-granddaughter, who Annie was blessed to hold only days before she departed.
As I have written of many of the important women in my life, Annie was a special light. My life and culinary experience was impacted by those so much wiser than myself and Annie held a distinct place in my heart. She taught me how to make one killer pie, cowboy cookies and showed me what unfettered love looked like. I hold her memory, her quiet insight and understanding, from which I learned so much, with immeasurable gratitude and grace.
Fly away together and be free Annie and Pete.