I just learned today that my Aunt Mary, my Mom's oldest sister, passed away this afternoon. My Aunt was 94 and although physically incapacitated, she was mentally sharp right up to the end.
Although my Aunt was not an integral part of my life, she showed up enough to leave an imprint. My clearest memories of Aunt Mary come from my childhood. She owned a skating rink in Bloomsburg, Pa, called "Dixie's Starlight Gardens". Dixie was her husband who was later killed in an auto accident when I was a teenager. Although I was scared to death to get on skates and struggle around the rink when my family paid a visit, I loved to watch my aunt in action.
Aunt Mary had a poise and presence typically only seen in beautiful movie stars of the 1950's. She was confident, artistic and theatrical. She dressed with a flair and was very outgoing. Seeing her through the eyes of a little girl that came from a regular household with a Mom who was a homemaker (which holds a ton of great memories for me), a Dad who worked hard all day in a blue collar job, and a hectic household with three siblings, Aunt Mary held a bit of glamour and intrigue.
I was most impressed with how she dealt with her teen skaters. She coached many of them in their routines for competitions. Although I never saw her on skates, she obviously knew what she was doing. The kids loved her and did their best to please her.
I never remember her chastising anyone for making a mistake, although I do remember her praising them for their successes. Aunt Mary had only one child that died soon after birth, so she never really got to parent. I believe she saw her instruction and care for her skaters the same as raising a family.
A few years ago I was a speaker at a Women's Conference in Bloomsburg. During lunch I met some women who grew up in the Bloomsburg area. I happened to mention my Aunt Mary's name and Dixie Starlight Gardens. One women gasped when she heard this and then explained that she was one of the teens that my Aunt took under her wing as a skater. She was thrilled to know she was alive, and later visited her at the nursing home where she has spent the past few years.
When I was a young girl, my Aunt's friends would always comment that I was the "spitting image" of her. Just like my Mom, we share the same eyes and smile. I'd like to think I picked up a bit of her other gifts as well. In fact, I think I will gratefully take on a combo of gifts from this previous generation. My Aunt's poise and intrigue and my Mom's humor and joy of life.
So, I say Good-bye to Aunt Mary and thank you. I'm grateful for her showing me that breaking the rules and living a life that is not necessarily within the mold for a woman, is always an option.