My 98-year-old mother-in-law Shirley passed in early January, having by one month reached her long-time goal of living beyond her mother’s age. In an era of stay-at-home moms, Shirley was the quintessential balabusta—a Yiddish expression meaning “mistress of the house” or good housekeeper. She was the poster girl for a clean and organized household. All of her relatives teased Shirley about remaining within arm’s reach of her yellow sponge. To exemplify her systemized ways of doing things, she conscientiously kept the mustard to the right of the ketchup in her refrigerator. When dinner guests were due, Shirley inevitably set the table at least a day prior to their arrival.
A favorite story involves a half-smoked cigar my father in law left in an ashtray before going to bed at midnight. Shirley’s husband quizzically searched for it upon arising in the early morning. It seems Shirley had gotten up at 2:00 am, unable to sleep, and in the process of tidying up had tossed out the cigar. Due to various similar incidents, one of my sons-in-law coined the verb shirleying to depict such behavior, i.e., “Did you Shirley my glass?”
These comical incidents aside, my mother-in-law’s prominent love language was acts of service. She dutifully cooked, shopped for, and in all ways met the basic needs of her husband and three children. In addition to anchoring the household, Shirley managed to devote about ten hours weekly to cashiering at her husband’s neighborhood grocery store. Her main interests were playing piano, singing in a choir, playing a weekly mahjong game, and midday catnapping. Later in life she took painting classes and produced some skillful artwork.
Loved by all relatives and widely appreciated for her easy-going, unassuming demeanor, Shirley constantly welcomed her extended family and family friends into her home. Adept at making all visitors very comfortable in her home, she proved the consummate hostess in every manner. She persisted in offering food and drinks to those who initially refused her hospitality. The epitome of Shirley’s heartful service was tirelessly caring for her aged, live-in mother for seven years prior to her mother’s death.
Clearly, Ms. Balabusta humbly earned love and admiration from family, friends, and many acquaintances for her unceasing graciousness and genuinely sweet nature.
Your Relationship Coach,
Jim Sharon, EdD is a licensed psychologist and couples' coach who has over four decades of professional experience serving thousands as a counselor, as a life and relationship coach, and as a seminar and retreat facilitator. Dr. Sharon has authored two books and many professional publications, most recently, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship (with Ruth Sharon, MS), published by SkyLight Paths, 2014. Jim and Ruth have been married since 1970, have raised three adult children, and have two young granddaughters.