My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part II

Last week I wrote here about my mother-in-law’s painting in New York City in the 40s and 50s. If you haven’t read it, check it out to see samples of the murals of jazz celebrities Diana Dale painted for the Birdland club.

When my husband was in elementary school, his family moved from New York to Michigan.

Here is my MIL standing beside some of her art at the Art Fair at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo.

In Michigan, the subject of her paintings gradually changed. While she still occasionally painted portraits, she began to paint the architecture she found in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan. She also added the surname Castle to her professional name.


The above painting of the A.M. Todd factory was painted just before it was torn down.

In the first year I dated my husband, Diana sat in her “burnt orange” Opel, painting the bank building downtown and the old Monarch paper mill. She was hired to paint local restaurants, restaurant chain stores, and the downtown mall.

Here’s a little aside.  It has to do with my MIL, but it takes a moment to get to that part.  While hubby and I were living in our first house, but before we had kids, I was told I needed to get my impacted wisdom teeth removed. Since I thought the recommended oral surgeon was high on something when I went for a consult, I chose a different one.

Impaction means you need to be “put out” and have the teeth dug out. During the middle of the surgery, suddenly I became conscious and, without yet realizing what was going on, I opened my eyes. You should have seen the look on the doctor’s and assistant’s faces! They were horrified. After quick instructions from the doctor, the assistant ran out to get more medication. Soon I was blissfully out of it again.

But that was just the beginning of a terrible experience. Within a day my face swelled up like a very large jack o’lantern. The swelling didn’t go down for a month. I was on Demerol and began having hallucinations. I woke up  in terror, thinking I was being choked to death by all the long bead and chain necklaces hanging on a rack on my dresser. My two sweet dogs wouldn’t go near me; they were terrified. I soon discovered that men wouldn’t look at me. My neighbor, hubby’s friend, every man whose path I crossed: they glanced at me, looked away with a horrified expression, and then refused to look at me again.

The worst part was that I couldn’t eat at all–for weeks. My face was too swollen. So my great MIL came to my house every day. She stayed with me while hubby was at work, helping me with anything she could Best of all, she made homemade soups and then ran them through the blender so that I could swallow them.

She also doted on my dogs and for many years, she babysat them for a couple of hours a day while hubby and I were at work.  Needless to say, when we adopted our son, she was his first babysitter!


Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing

36 responses to “My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part II

  1. Wonderful post. Thank you!

  2. I love the style of Diana’s art, and what a magnificent factory, how wonderful that she painted it before it was torn down (so sad). Love the barn too. What a nightmare time you had with your wisdom teeth (and I’m still not fully over my recent dental nightmare, to the point that I had an actual nightmare recently that my teeth were falling out left, right and centre and I woke up believing it was true, for a few seconds…). This stuff is traumatic! How kind of her to stay with you when you needed her help and such a beautiful photograph of her with your son and your dog. I love reading about this wonderful woman, thank you for sharing her with us Luanne 🙂

    • Thanks, Sherri, isn’t that factory gorgeous? I can’t believe that nobody fought to keep it, but thank goodness she preserved its beauty in the painting. I believe it was a commission by the A.M. Todd company. I only have a limited edition print of it. Yes, your dental nightmare, my dental nightmare, between the two of them, we have enough dental nightmares to last everyone on both sides of the pond. By the way, today is my daughter’s English boyfriend’s birthday, so please wish him a Happy Birthday ;)! Thanks so much for reading and enjoying hearing about my great MIL!!!! xo

  3. It sounds like you were in great hands, Luanne. Your MIL looks and sounds very sweet and she a talented artist. She’s the complete package!

    • Jill, such great hands! She was so sweet with my dogs and then my kids, too, so it was really sad when we moved away from her from the kids were so young :(. You are right: she was the complete package!

  4. Wow! What a dental experience! And what a great MIL you had.

    • Kate, yeah, it was pretty memorable. As in, my regular dentist had never heard of such a thing as the swelling I had. It might have been related to the medical condition I have called lymphedema, which is thankfully not usually in my face! I’ve heard of other people waking up in the middle of surgery though, and when I had a basal cell taken off my forehead, I woke up in the middle of that, too, but my eyes were covered so they didn’t know I was awake LOL. They were talking about some other horrible cancer case . . . .

  5. It’s so good when your family comes through for you.

  6. Great MIL, and great DIL to take the time to honor her. Thank you again for sharing these memories, and her art.

  7. What a privilege Luanne! Such a wonderful talent and from this and your previous post you can just tell she was an exceptional human being. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  8. I think her architecture “portraits” are beautiful, especially the old farmhouse. It sounds like she was a rare woman, Luanne.

    What a horrible tooth tale. My face hurts imagining it but lucky you had your MIL.

    • Sooooo lucky. They are wonderful (and so was she). We used to sell her limited edition prints of local landmarks in our luggage store, and they were very popular.

  9. That is a seriously horrible wisdom tooth experience! Yikes! And how sweet of your MIL to take such good care of you. What a lovely memory to have of her.

    • I don’t know what I would have done without her! I might have lost a LOT of weight because I can’t imagine hubby making soup and blending it for me LOL.

  10. I am so sorry for your past experience of such long-lasting reactions to the dental surgery, Luanne. This sounds like you could have possibly pursued a lawsuit….(?) I am so glad you appreciated your MIL’s help and her artistry, too. Sometimes, it may seem hard to be close to someone who is famous and may be very knowledgeable, while you are young. I look back upon my student teaching experiences and cringe when I think of how the one elderly teacher was very difficult to be around, but I should have persevered and tried to learn from her experience. This is so helpful, Luanne, of your sweet MIL to come and save the day! Blending soups to make them easily to go down and be digested. The photograph of her is so very special, Luanne. It shows a very beautiful woman with your cutest little son.

    • Robin, it was a terrible experience, but probably not the oral surgeon’s fault (or not too much). I have weird reactions to things sometimes–medications and then the swelling issues. My MIL would have been a great person to learn art from as she was very patient and kind-hearted. But there are those who are not so kind who still have a lot to offer. I love that photo. Isn’t my son as cute as a bug’s ear? And my MIL was very beautiful–thank you for noticing!!

  11. Lovely paintings. Where is all her work kept now?

    • That is such a great question, Andrew! Now, I am curious, too!

    • Andrew, thank you! The Birdland paintings are in the hands of private collectors, as are many other paintings. But when she passed away, there were many paintings left. We have many of them, my SIL has some, and then we gave away some to friends. there were also some limited edition prints left for some of the paintings that had been commissioned.

  12. I love this tribute to your MIL, Luanne. It is refreshing to hear about a in-law relationship that is steeped in friendship and admiration. The last pic of her holding M is my favorite.

  13. Wonderful post, Luanne! Your MIL’s paintings made me smile … they look fun and cheery. I guess they reflect her personality 🙂

  14. I love your MIL’s style. And it is wonderful to hear about a painter who was paid for creating her art. And what a terrible reaction to your dental surgery. You’re sweet not to blame the dentist; I’ve had some of my worst medical experiences in the dentist chair; I do not underestimate dental procedures.

    • My MIL had a hilarious (to me) habit of lowballing clients and then she would start asking for more money to finish the painting ;). I’m sure there were some people who didn’t appreciate it, but I think she only tried it with the ones with a lot of money and they usually paid because they knew they were getting a deal.
      There might have been some blame on the part of the oral surgeon, but then I can’t really know that. What I do know is that I have a history of drug reactions and swelling :)! I’m sorry you’ve had some bad experiences in that chair!!!

  15. Pingback: Perry Como and My Mother-in-Law | Luanne Castle's Writer Site

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