Saturday, May 02, 2009

Great Aunt Mary, 1913-2009

our mary

Mary died.

She was the last of the "Great Aunts" on my mother’s side. My grandmother's baby sister.

She would have been 96 this month, a long life by most standards. Nonetheless, when my mother said she'd gone, the words tumbled over each other, preventing me from sleep.

Mary. Died.

Loveable Mary.

Stylish Mary.

Mary, who, despite a gentle demeanor and slender calves, was herself a brick house beneath tendrils of ivy.

Mary who’d lived through wonderful luck and terrible loss with the same cheerful grace, and who was always "as truthful as kindness allowed," was gone.

If anyone could, we all thought, Mary would live forever.

I have many memories of Mary; many more than I have of my own grandmother, who died when I was a child: Her voice, her smile, her devil-may-care but the angels-will-call demeanor. A glint in her eye that was proof she enjoyed the world and the people in it.

I also remember the things that surrounded her: photographs of family on the mantle; magnets on the fridge holding up milestones from loveone's far-flung; the candy kisses on the table; the sodas in the pink ice box, sadly replaced when it couldn’t be fixed; the tea kettle on her pink, push-button stove. ...

Pink was her color. I wanted it to be my color, even as I robotically wore black.

Most memorable for me, however, was one night nearly 20 years ago when my mother phoned to ask if I would get Aunt Mary from the hospital and stay with her the night.

She'd had an "episode" and was alright, but shouldn't be left alone.

Such a request no one had ever made of me, nor would they have had they any other choice. No one else was available.

Great Aunt Mary had been having these episodes of stroke-like effects; and they scared her. She didn’t want to be alone.

I was scared, too. What if something happened to her in the night? What would I do?

When I arrived at the hospital she was waiting, dressed in a robe and slippers. I wasn't scared after I saw her. Though noticeably tired, she was the same charming person I’d always known her to be, ready with a laugh and a smile and an "I’m so glad you’re here ... I really hope it wasn’t an inconvenience."

It was the first time in my life when I felt not only needed, but trusted, too.

How could such need ever be an inconvenience?

It was just a single moment in time. A minute. A second. Insignificant.

Many years later she attended my wedding; she held my first child in her arms on the golden swivel chair; she met my second child in photographs after she’d moved away to live with her daughters.

After that I saw her only in photographs.

Her smile hadn't changed.

As news of her final days traveled back home, however, I remembered that night so long ago that I slept in her spare bedroom.

"There will never be another like Mary," I thought then. "I am lucky to have known you," I think now.

Goodnight, Mary.

Sleep well.


Kcoz said...

Sorry about your loss...nice to read your fond memories of Aunt Mary.

Later, Kcoz

Bill said...

That's a wonderful tribute - and wonderful memories to share. I'm sorry for your family's loss.

Mommy Project said...

She sounds like quite an amazing lady.

Kcoz said...

I know this is off topic but I feel I must inform you and any of your readers with children.

"recent analysis of "Hola Pop" by the California Department of Public Health found that the candy contained a high level of lead.

The whole story is here:

Later, Kcoz

Kelly said...

I can tell from the photo she was very stylish. And from your words that she was a dear, bright lady close to your heart. My condolences.

Sarah @ said...

She sounds like a wonderful woman that you were lucky to know. I am so sorry for your loss.

Martha said...

What a lovely tribute to your Aunt Mary. That is wonderful.