More Than a Mother-In-Law:
Some Reflections on the Life of Dorothy S. Waterman
by her son-in-law

Dorothy Waterman was especially remarkably open to whatever was new and unusual. She was always willing, for example, to try exotic foods. I have only heard second-hand about her first encounter with a lobster but I think I did witness her first encounters with foods like artichokes and snails, which she tried with relish. I even remember one time, in her last years, when she was willing to experiment with e-mail. While that experience was not entirely satisfactory for her, it is telling that she tried. She had an inquiring mind which enabled her to overcome childhood assumptions and expectations and to embrace life and the people she met to the fullest.

She was, from day one, even open to a strange son-in-law from the wilds of New Jersey, of all places, and a classicist to boot! As our first meeting approached, I was naturally a bit worried because my courtship with her only daughter was very short and our engagement unexpected. From the moment I met Dorothy Waterman, however, I felt welcomed and loved. That first meeting in Baltimore was not the interrogation I feared but an act of embracing and welcoming. And it did not take too many trips to Maine before I felt that I was not just going to visit my in-laws but I was actually going home.

Over the years going to Maine has meant many hours of conversation at the dinner table or in the living room in Waldoboro or at the picnic table on the porch at the camp. Conversations which usually centered around people and what made them tick. Not just people Dorothy met in the flesh—and there were certainly many of those—but also people she met and came to know in her beloved book world, people like Dr. Spock, Jane Austen, L. Frank Baum, and J.R.R. Tolkien. (I am convinced to this day that if I had not already read Tolkein’s trilogy before meeting Anne, Dorothy’s natural tolerance and openness would have been stretched to the limit. Fortunately I passed that test.) She always had classics questions for me, and not always ones I could answer. She wanted to know about Homer, Vergil, Plato and other authors. I regret now that I never invited her to attend one of my classes. I think she would have enjoyed that immensely.

She always had stories ready to tell, especially about family and friends. I can’t count the number of times I heard the story of Apple Tru, which she felt was hilarious every time she told it. And always finished up with a raucous and mischievous laugh which, I think, made up for any of the embarrassment in some of her stories.

My memories of Dorothy in Maine include vignettes like her feeding dry bread to sea gulls at Pemaquid, eating blueberries on top of Cleary Hill, and letting her grandchildren paint her face. Marie’s first Christmas, spent in Maine, was especially memorable as she opened doll after doll after doll.

I think Dorothy prepared all year for visits from her Sienkewicz grandchildren by hoarding objects she thought would amuse them, usually simple things like tin cans or plastic jars with which to play in the sand at the camp or on Pemquid Beach. She also reached out to them over the miles with books to read and even audio tapes on which she sang her favorite songs.

Other memories include Dorothy’s trip to Severn after Marie was born. When we asked why she had two suitcases for such a short trip, she explained that one was filled with rags to clean the kitchen floor. She didn’t want Anne to do it. It was no surprise to us, however, that no rags ever actually came out of the suitcase. Baby Marie was too distracting.

Probably my most vivid memories of Dorothy, however, are from her visit to France in 1974. These memories center especially on feet because, even then the foot problems which in her later years became such a trial were beginning to surface. Naturally Anne and I wanted her parents to see as much of Paris as possible and that, unfortunately, meant a lot of walking. It was inevitable, then, that our visit to the Louvre became a study in toes, toes on statues and toes in paintings. I will never look at the Victory of Samothrace in quite the same way again! And walking through the splendid gardens at Versailles Dorothy suddenly burst out into one of her raucous laughs. When we inquired what she was laughing at, she gleefully said she had just been thinking about how everyone back in Maine was thinking about how good a time Dorothy and Dick were having in Paris while all she could think about was how her feet hurt. This was not a complaint, it was just a amusing observation on the vagaries of fate. This time the joke was on her!

Paris also introduced Dorothy to Asterix, which she read avidly over the years. It is a credit to her tenacity and joie de vivre that even in her last months she was ploughing through those Asterix books once more time.

Paris brings me full circle back to food and elaborate meals at the Fouché’s dinner table. There were certainly exotic foods to be had at that table, but what I especially remember was the wine. Raised in a strict Methodist home, Dorothy never drank wine, but she was in Paris and was a guest in someone’s home. So she wanted to be a good guest and enjoy her experience. So she would cautiously sip her wine and, when she thought the meal was over, chug the rest so she would leave her glass empty. Instead, however, her host would refill her glass again and again. Dorothy’s high school French was hesitant at the beginning of the evening, but as the evening progressed and the wine flowed, her French improved remarkably. I would not say that she was fluent by the time the champagne was served but she was certainly communicating quite well to her French hosts.

These are just a few vignettes of a rich and varied life but I hope that they have captured some of Dorothy’s fascinating and lovable personality.

Written in love by
Thomas J. Sienkewicz