Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aunt Mary Jean

My Aunt Mary Jean was my mother's sister, now deceased more than 15 years. But my birth mother died 44 years ago; I had barely turned 13. I had two sisters and two brothers at the time of her death, all younger than me. My mother died of breast cancer in 1966, a sure death sentence back then.

My dad was left with five children, ages five to thirteen. He was 42 years old, relatively young, when his wife died. He remarried a little more than a year later. He and my step-mother were married for 34 years, until she died of a heart attack at age 73. Today, my dad is alive and well at age 84, almost nine years after my step-mother died.

Back to my Aunt Mary Jean. Mary Jean was at least ten years older than her younger sister, Connie (my mother). I remember a photo of my mother seated on Mary Jean's lap when baby Connie was about a year old; Mary Jean is at least ten years old in the photo.

After my mother died, even after my father had re-married, my Aunt Mary Jean used to come and visit us once or twice a year, usually on Easter, sometimes on Christmas. She would only stay for about an hour, often never taking off her hat and gloves. Aunt Mary Jean was proper lady. I don't think I ever saw her wear anything but a skirt and blouse and nylon stockings, except for the few occasions when my year younger sister and I were small and she took us to the beach.

Aunt Mary Jean used to send us cards on our birthdays, enclosing a ten dollar bill, all she could afford on her secretary's salary. She never married. But she remembered our birthdays for as long as I can remember. Every year when I would travel back East to visit my family, I would visit my aunt, if only for an hour or two. She never seemed to change. She could be, and often was, critical of everything and anything, and never shy to voice her opinion. I can still remember her shrill laugh.

I have to wonder what she promised her sister when Connie lay dying in the hospital. What would I have done if I was the 37 year old mother of five children, ages 13 and under? I would have asked my sister to watch over my children, make sure that they were well taken care of, follow their lives even into adulthood. I think perhaps that is why my Aunt Mary Jean came to visit us at least once a year, even after my father remarried. She made a promise to her dying sister, and she kept it.

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