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My mother-in-law’s name is Eleanor, but she’s always gone by her middle name… June.

I recently had the pleasure of attending her 85th birthday party. It was held in a room at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University. June graduated from MSU, as did one of her sons and one of her daughters. When I first met her, she was a preacher’s wife.

Poor June really didn’t know what to think of me. I was home on leave from the Army, trying my best to get to know her daughter in the Biblical sense. June’s never been a dense woman. She could see what was going on, and tried her best to keep her young daughter out of my clutches.

Actually, I didn’t know how young her daughter was until a county cop asked us for our IDs one night… but that’s another story altogether. I was talking about June.

As I said, she graduated from MSU. Later in life, she got her Master’s there. She was a schoolteacher who eventually worked with special needs students at the Beekman Center in Lansing, Michigan.

By the time she retired, she was well-known for her work in the Music Department at Beekman. She put together what was called the Hand-bell Choir, and the group became so proficient that they gave concerts across the state.

June has always been a seamstress. When I met her daughter, many of the clothes I tried to get her out of were made by June. I would guess that comes, at least partly, from growing up in times a lot tougher than many of us have ever seen. But June has always been really good at it. My wife takes clothes to June for alteration often, and I suppose others do too.

She quilts, at home and with a group of ladies at her church. The quilts she makes at home were for her grand-children at first, but now are for her great-grand-children. My own children slept under her quilts.The quilts made in her church group are so special that people buy them for gifts, though I have a sneaky suspicion that some of them are resold for a profit.

She’s an accomplished musician, plays the organ for her church and with a band that does religious music that’s pretty close to blues. I’m not a churchgoer, but those that have heard the band say it’s really something to see June rocking away on the stage.

It took June a long time to warm up to me, but eventually she did. I sometimes joke that I won her over by sending her flowers on her birthdays, but I know that’s not completely true. Like I said, she’s never been dense.

Maybe she saw something in me, or maybe it was the grand-kids, or maybe we warmed up to each other over the years, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

June stood by me when I was a hurtin’ unit, just about to go down in flames. She’s given me encouragement when I needed it, kindly advice (whether I wanted it or not), but never scolded me or reprimanded me.

She’s one classy lady, with a heart of gold.

My second mom.