On Friday, the last of my grandmother’s sisters died…Aunty Mary. She was 95. She’s the third from the left in the photo below–my grandmother is second from the right.
While I wasn’t as close to Aunty Mary as I was to several of my other great aunts, I enjoyed visiting her. She was a tough cookie disguised as a cupcake, a tiny little thing with a quick smile. Who shoveled her own driveway her whole life, because she could. She was part of a seniors bowling league where she played every week – even right after she had a toe amputated. When her partners didn’t believe she’d lost a toe, she whipped off her shoe to show them.
Sometimes she’d tell me things about the family I didn’t know. When I got interested in genealogy and started researching my grandmother’s family, I had a tough time finding out where my great-grandfather was buried. Then Aunty Mary told me and my mother that when her father died in 1925, leaving his pregnant wife with 7 girls under the age of 12 to care for, there was no money for a headstone. The cemetery manager took pity on the widow and allowed her to bury her husband in a family plot with his parents, with no marker.
In the late 1970s or early ’80s, Aunty Mary had breast cancer. One day when my mom, my cousin Becky and I were visiting her, she told us that her hair fell out doing chemotherapy leaving her “bald all over the top of my head – just like a man.” She unexpectedly lifted her wig to show us. The three of us had no clue how to react.
Mary had a twin sister, Adeline (nicknamed Red)–as you can see in the photo above, the two didn’t look much alike. Mary and Doris married brothers Ernest and Edward Gagne. Mary and Ernie married in 1935, when my grandmother was only 12. She had five kids and worked at New Departure from 1945-1975. I think that’s part of the reason why we saw more of some of my other great-aunts, who were closer in age to Norma or had fewer children than Mary and could therefore get out of the house more easily. (Although most of the sisters worked at New Departure at some point and probably saw each other frequently at work).
In November 1949, Mary and Norma crossed paths in the delivery room at the hospital…my grandmother had just delivered her daughter Shirley; Mary was on the way in to have her son Lenny. For some reason, they were convinced that one sister would have a boy and the other would have a girl. When Aunty Mary told us about it, she said, “On my way in, I saw Norma coming out and told the nurse to stop, that was my sister…I asked what she had and she said she had a girl. I told her I wanted the girl!” (She got a girl the next time.)
Sometime before 1946, when both my grandmother and Aunty Doll got married, someone wrote this poem about the seven sisters.
While it’s certainly not great literature, it’s sweet that someone was so taken with the sisters that he wrote this poem to try to capture their personalities. I’m grateful that I had the chance to meet all seven sisters and see their zany dynamic.