Ingratiating Mother-In-Law or Chutzpah Unleashed?

By Marlene Samuels

I’d been married for three years during which time my husband and I had been renovating our house almost constantly. Although a magnificent brick and limestone structure built in1882 complete with copper spires and massive leaded windows, it was unquestionably a fixer-upper. “But it’s got great bones!” Our realtor gushed during our final walk-through before we closed the deal.

 By then, I was nine-months pregnant, still working full-time and more exhausted than I ever might have believed any human could be. The entire first floor had been completed but for our dining room. The large formal room with fourteen-foot high ceilings, had yet to be painted. We chose dark hunter green, our favorite color. It also was reminiscent of so many places we’d dined in Italy. 

Before committing fully, we painted one-third of a wall, top to bottom, with our three chosen colors as per my architect brother-in-law’s recommendations. “Leave the paint swatches there for at least three days, five if possible. That should allow you to see what they look like during different times of day and in different weather conditions when the light changes.” Perfect advice that confirmed our first-choice color had also been perfect.

The next day, a Friday, our painters arrived promptly at 8:00 a.m. Gallon cans of our chosen color were lined up on the tarp-covered dining room floor and by 5:00 o’clock, the room was a rich hunter green. I sat down at the table in the freshly painted space. I recalled the intense flavors of Osso Bucco, fantasizing about a return trip to Italysome time in the not too distant future.

That Saturday, Hope, my mother-in-law, popped in to see for herself just how the room I’d raved about had turned out. Beyond horrified, she couldn’t contain herself. “Oh my goodness, Deary, this simply is way, way too dark!” She opined. “Frankly, I think you’ve made a terrible mistake. You must realize you’ll get totally sick of it in no time at all and never mind what your dishes or linens will look like in here. Did you even give that the slightest thought?”

Early the next morning Hope was on our front porch hammering on the door. Another woman — redheaded just like Hope, hung back in the shadows. I noticed that under her arm she carried three bundles of what appeared to be decks of paint store samples. I opened the door for them. “Marlene, this is Nadine. She’s a professional color consultant.” said my mother-in-law before announcing, “Quite frankly, I’m positive she’ll be able to help you.” 

What, indeed, was a color consultant I wondered as the two strode directly past me through our hallway and toward the back of the house into the dining room. They fanned paint color wheels across the dining table, pulled no fewer than five greens forward, and discussed the merits and underlying tones of each. They strolled back and forth to the windows as though I wasn’t home, all the while holding their selected paint chips at different angles in front of the different windows.

The following afternoon, my husband met me at the maternity wing of our hospital. Preoccupied with childbirth, paint colors couldn’t have been farther from our minds. It was Memorial Day weekend which meant an unanticipated sparsity of hospital staff and hence, no one on duty with the authority to discharge us. At last, after three days, I arrived home with our newborn in my arms. I eased myself into our oversized living-room arm chair and looked around. I’d been gone for a mere three days yet it felt like ages. Something in the house was off, but what? From my vantage point in the front room, I could see all the way through the first floor to the back room and which was our dining room.

During my absence, Hope and her esteemed color-consultant Nadine had our dining room repainted to light sea-foam green. For the following two weeks, my husband and I agreed to pretend we’d been reincarnated as rabbits and were eating our meals inside of a giant head of lettuce. Three weeks later, I’d regained some energy. My husband called our painters once again and once again, they arrived at 8:00 a.m. By 5:00 p.m., the room was dark hunter green. The two of us stood back and admired it yet again.

Sunday afternoon, my in-laws arrived bearing gifts, tea cakes and an office-sized urn of coffee. As they cooed over their new grandson, my husband set our dining room table. We moved into the room and took seats. I placed the platter of pastries in the center of the table while Hope filled mugs of coffee and passed them around. Task completed, she sipped her coffee. But as she gazed admiringly at the freshly painted walls, confusion spread across her face. Her raised eyebrows gave her a look of shock. After that, nothing pertaining to paint color was ever again discussed in our house.

©  2023 Marlene Samuels

Marlene holds a Ph.D., from University of Chicago. A research sociologist by training, she writes creative non-fiction by preference. Currently, she is completing her book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story.  She is coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, and author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact-Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Her essays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals, and online.  (


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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