I’ve received a staggering number of emails re: Aunt Mary in today’s paper, so I would be remiss if I didn’t say ‘thank you’. On Aunt Mary’s behalf.
Aunt Mary, who mostly felt invisible in her small-town poverty and her single-woman struggle, would be both shocked and over the moon to see so many positive responses to her situation and her story. “You’re pulling my leg!” she would insist, and then offer me a Coca Cola and ask if had time to watch her soaps with her, because they were really getting good!
Newspapers have word limits, so allow me to add a few background details for context.
Aunt Mary was not good as a kid in school. She dropped out after her sophomore year, but not for the reasons you might think. She had 8 siblings, including one brother who’d been born way too early.
Jerry grew to man-size, but he was blind, deaf, mute. He wore a diaper. And he received nutrition via feeding tube. Of so many siblings, Mary was the best at helping with Jerry and, not only that, she ENJOYED taking care of him. Jerry was the love of her life. She left high school to take the pressure off her mother (my grandmother) to care for her invalid brother full-time.
Who among us would do such a thing?
I’ve published several essays over the years about Aunt Mary. I’d send them to her pre-publication. She did not always like what she read. But she never minced words and responded like the colorful character she was. After one piece, she said she didn’t like the story one goddamned bit, what the hell was I thinking with all that personal detail!, but added, “I know I said all that, but I sound stupid and mean. I need to watch my mouth!”
Life lessons for her, and for me.
Aunt Mary loved being written about. A devout Catholic, she was sure she’d view it all from the beyond, from the afterlife, and that she’d witness any fallout from on high. Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
A few years before she died of stomach cancer, Aunt Mary bought her single burial plot at Cape Memorial Park, right on the main road to town. When I balked at the location, she laughed me off. I was missing it!
“I don’t want to be alone,” she insisted, appalled at my response. “If my coffin is buried right on the road, think of all the people who can just wave hello to me every single day when they pass. Every day! How lucky am I?!”
Suffice it to say, she was right. We are all waving.
Bless you, Aunt Mary. You’re a freakin’ rock star. And your fan mail is still rolling in.