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Alison was my mother-in-law for 11 years. She signed U.S. government documents swearing I would never become a ward of the state. She sponsored me for my green card because her son and I were going to marry.

It was steaming hot the Monday night I arrived in Houston in December 1965. The wool suit that looked so crisp when I left Dublin was limp and matted from the humidity. My face was beet red and my hair frizzy from the heat. Alison, a tall, handsome woman with a lovely smile, offered me tea right away, and said, "You look just like your photograph, dear."

"Mom, they ruin the tea over here," I reported in my first letter home. "They put ice in it. Alison cooks food out of a box called Hamburger Helper. It's all mixed together with peas. Tastes awful. The pancakes come out of a box, as well. Oh, Mom, I'm longing for a bit of lamb roast with mint sauce.

"And everyone says 'gee,' 'golly' or 'wow' after everything I say. Mom, she works as an executive secretary for Union Carbide. She's always reading, and devours chocolates while pounding her typewriter at 80 words per minute. She asked me to go to her Episcopalian church, but I told her I went to Catholic church only.

"She often talks about getting divorced after World War II, when her daughter was only 6 weeks old. Her blind mother lives here, too, and only eats vegetables. She must not like the food out of a box, either.

"Alison has several photos of Mexican children around. She sends money to Mexico for them every month.

"Mom, there are big turtles in the pool, and she swims with them at 4 o'clock in the morning -- no bathing suit on. 'It's my time to be alone, dear,' she says. Mom, things are getting out of hand. We went to her friend's house to try on the friend's made-in-France wedding dress -- Chantilly lace. 'It's perfect, dear. Won't cost a dime,' Alison said. God, I look like a doily. I planned to wear a linen suit like in the Vogue magazine and a stunning picture hat for my wedding. What will I do?"

Mom told me to wear the Vogue suit and picture hat for my going-away outfit. She reminded me that Alison had sponsored me. So I wore the wedding dress. Everyone said I was a lovely bride.

Later, my husband and I moved to Buffalo for a job in a steel plant. Children were born. Alison often drove up from Texas with her little dog panting out the window. "I only got one speeding ticket, dear," was a common greeting.

Her son and I divorced, but Alison and I remained friends. Now she's 88 and has published a book, "The Best is Yet to Be," a compilation of columns she wrote for a small newspaper. "I have book signings every week" she told me. "It's selling like hot cakes, dear. And all proceeds go to the homeless."

"Like most women, when I was graduated from college, I got married," Alison writes in her book. "The year I was 80, I got my associate's degree. At 82, I got my bachelor's and at 84, I married Les."

When I hear the word mother-in-law, I think about Alison, who convinced the government I was a good bet for a green card. My former mother-in-law is the grandmother of my children, a great-grandmother and my longtime friend. She still remembers everyone's birthday, and insists on thank-you notes. Alison is on my list of 10 most admired women.

VERONICA HOGLE enjoys writing about family characters who influenced her.