Last weekend we celebrated my Aunt Mary’s 80th birthday. Aunt Mary is my Dad’s younger sister and she came to Manitoba from her home in Arkansas for a visit. Her four sisters and brother who live in Manitoba decided to surprise her with a birthday party. Her children flew in from Oklahoma and Minneapolis and nearly fifty members of our extended family turned up at her party. That is not surprising because Auntie Mary is a very special lady.
She lived in Newton Kansas for many years and that was where the Mennonite Church had its headquarters. My son Bucky wasn’t even a year old when I went there for a Parenting For Peace and Justice workshop. Auntie Mary invited me to stay with her and volunteered to care for my baby while I was at the workshop sessions. Bucky had a wonderful time with her.
When Dave and I, and our two boys, were on our way to the Hopi Indian Reservation to do voluntary service for a year in a Mennonite Mission School there, we had to stop in Newton for a week of orientation. Again Auntie Mary offered her childcare services and planned a week of non-stop activity and excitement for her two great-nephews while Dave and I were busy with meetings. She even made a photo album for Bucky and Joel cataloguing all the fun things they had done together in Newton.
Auntie Mary is a nurse and for many years she was the manager of her husband’s medical office. Uncle Herb is a retired surgeon. But she still found time, while raising three children, to go back to university and get a degree in art. Dave and I have a beautiful painting of hers hanging in the front hallway of our home, a wedding gift from Auntie Mary.
Auntie Mary is an avid reader and I remember that on the occasions I visited her home, she always had a stack of books she’d read placed on the night table by my bed. These were books she had selected from her personal collection especially for me because she thought I would be interested in them.
When I was born my Auntie Mary stayed up all night with my Mom. This was before the time when husbands were allowed in the delivery room, so my Aunt Mary was my Mom’s support as she laboured through the night to give birth to her first child. Auntie Mary was writing her final exams to become a nurse the morning after I was born, but despite that, she stayed awake all night with my Mom. In this photo, she is holding me just after I entered the world. It is no wonder my mother and father decided that at least part of my name should be a tribute to Aunt Mary.
On our recent trip to Ukraine, I took along the transcribed notes my Auntie Mary had given me of several lengthy oral interviews she had conducted with my grandparents about their life in the Soviet Union. Those notes are what made it possible for me to find the places where my grandparents and great-grandparents had lived. I read my grandparents’ stories as I walked through their home village of Gnadenthal, and their life there came alive for me because of the work Auntie Mary had done collecting and transcribing her parents’ stories.
Auntie Mary is a warm, compassionate, positive person, family orientated, hospitable, easy to talk to, affirming and a lifelong learner. I am proud to be her namesake.