Folk Traditions: In-laws

Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law


Between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are tempests and storms

Italian Proverb

sdggira e nbra calaru di lu celu sciarriannusi

Sicilian Proverb


Even in Poggioreale, where no greater harmony in families could be desired, every once in a while a distant memory of an unpleasant tradition is stirred which, it seems, happens everywhere, or almost, on the entire face of the earth. It has been explained as being caused by the exaggerated, though purely natural love that the mother has for her son, which is changed into a certain instinctive jealousy towards the daughter-in-law. Truly the explanation has its good considerations, but the fact is not based on reason.


The fact remains that it is so strongly rooted that people even say, at times:

maritu tintu avdgghia, sdggira mail Nora grattaldra.

What you must think of that other expression that puts in doubt the sincere and affectionate care that the good daughter-in-law gives to her dear, ill mother-in-law:

gnura ma, cci scummogghiu li pedi e ci cummogghiu la testa?

I can’t forget having heard about a man that when his mother-in-law died, he hastened to give her solemn funeral rites, and with a scrupulous attentiveness made sure that they buried her very well. Greatly aggrieved, he was so stone-faced that he seemed out of his senses from his atrocious pain. However, at the moment the deceased was interred, he exploded in a sobbing that seemed never-ending: his red eyes abundantly shedding tears.

All piteous eyes turn on him; everyone raced to comfort that man who could not articulate a single word, such was his sobbing and gasping for air, the latter caused by the convulsive contractions of his diaphragm. In any case, one of his friends who was very concerned about the terrible misfortune of his friend kept asking him the reason for his great grief which had exploded after he had been so serious and silent. Finally, between sobs, he replied: “Didn’t you hear what the chaplain said?!” “But what did he say, other than words of comfort?” “Oh!” He said, turning to me, he said: “That we will see each other again in heaven.” Poor son-in-law!

It seems that the world was made just for her; so the proverb goes:

Fortum e bom soggira su cosa rara [Good luck and a good mother-in-law are rare indeed].

In a restaurant, while asking the waiter to bring me a bit of oil for the boiled fish, I saw him return with that wicker server containing two cruets (with oil and vinegar) while smiling he said to me:

le do cuocer e nuoral [Here’s your mother-in-law and daughter-in-law]

…what do you say?

That is really the name of it, don’t you see how the two cruets are tied at the back and the front? I laughed. And then I remember having read of a Missionary story about how in the islands of the Pacific the dislike between the mother-in-law and the son-in-law is a serious family problem.

In the Solomon Islands, the son-in-law must not look at his mother-in-law, nor speak to her; if he meets her on the street, he must steer clear of her, keeping his eyes averted. Among the Kaffir, the son-in-law is ashamed of his mother-in-law and shrinks from having to be near her: if they meet, the man runs off, the mother-in-law hides herself. If it is necessary to speak to each other, they do not face each other, but stand with their backs facing, or they speak through a third person.

It reminds us to re-read the humorous treatise with the title: The Mother-in-Law written in 165 BC by the Latin poet and genial comedian Public Terenzio.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: ]