My Aunt Mary
I have always been a survivor. Whether it is the death of a loved one or cherished pet; the ending of a relationship or big changes in career and job, I seem to somehow make it through although not always in the shape I would like. As I discovered this year, I am doing OK…I am working through my life. And I guess that is why I started my blog. It has become a sort of therapy, a journal of sorts to realize the lessons learned and the lessons still needed. The blog has also lead to my writing memoirs about my life both in the blog and through other websites dedicated to memoir writing. As I was writing one of those memoirs, it occurred to me that I come from a long line of survivors many who have survived far worse than I have had to. And I have learned many lessons from these courageous survivors who have persevered through the hardships of their lives. So I am sharing that story with you as I wrote it. A tribute to an incredible woman-my Aunt Mary. She is 88 years young and resides in Arizona.
My Aunt Mary came to this country from Italy as a baby living in poverty. Her parents’ house had no heat except for a stove. She was not the oldest, but was the oldest surviving child. She had a sister born in the United States a few years younger, but her life would be forever changed when my mother came into this world. Three years later her mother died leaving my Aunt Mary as the female head of the household. She was 13, no longer a child, and now had to carry on as mother to 2 sisters. To say it was a hard life is an understatement. She had to deal with her mother’s death, raising her sisters and going to school. She has said that if it had not been for her father she would not have been able to do it. He helped with the cooking and chores so she could remain in school.
Aunt Mary completed vocational high school and went right to work to help bring in money to the family. She would do without to ensure her sisters had what they needed. She held various civil service jobs throughout her working career. Always trying to advance and always passing any test given to her. Many times she has said she doesn’t know how she passed all those tests. As she grew older and her sisters left and married, Aunt Mary took care of her father until his death. She was 34 when he died and unmarried which was unheard of in those times. She did marry soon after her father’s death, but had no children. Her sisters, nieces and nephews were her children. Even though we called her Aunt, she was more like a grandmother to us. I continue to celebrate Mother’s Day with her to this day and I know this touches her heart.
My Aunt is the type of person who has great humility. She celebrates your accomplishments with pride always downplaying anything she does. She is an incredible cook and baker. She literally made thousands of cookies every year for the holidays to give away to family, friends and neighbors. On any occasion you would find her baking something for someone, and she welcomed everyone to her table no matter the hour always making sure she made your favorites.
Always social, she appeared to know everyone, and if she didn’t she smiled and talked with them as if she did. She never missed a chance to visit friends or pay her respects to everyone she knew especially when they or their loved ones died. And now she lives in Arizona still near my mom. She still knows everyone, and what is going on in their lives. She still pays her respects. She keeps so many people in her prayers. She worries about them going to such lengths as lifting things she shouldn’t so you don’t have to because you may have a sore back.
She is the role model I have always looked up to. We have such busy lives that we don’t know each other anymore, but she has always listened and touched people just with her smile, her kind words. We don’t seem to care about each other and what is happening, but she knows exactly who is sick or hurt. Who may need some help or a friend to visit. See these are the most important things to her. The way she has lived her whole life not looking for anyone to reciprocate. Just treating people the way we all should and don’t these days with friendship, respect, love.
Since writing this memoir and this blog, I have discovered a rich heritage of gardening in my family. My grandfather (mom’s dad) loved to garden. He raised beautiful roses and grew incredible veggies and figs. And so too have my mother and Aunt Mary. They have always grown and loved roses. And as any gardener knows, you have to have perseverance or you will not produce much. I have found I approach most challenges in this way. I have a purpose grounded in love and respect and I persist on a course of action to get it done whether it is growing veggies through blights and pests, dealing with flooding and loss of plants or trying to keep the foraging animals at bay. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t, but I always look for the lesson. My most cherished quote that has helped me through some of the hardest times is by my favorite poet, Robert Frost:
“The best way out is always through”
In the end we can try to avoid the hardships we are given, but they will not go away. To humbly work through them, to perserve always looking for the lesson that will only make us stronger–this keeps us surviving. So I find I look for those lessons and think of my ancestors and all they have given you, and I thank them.