My cousin Linda called me this week to tell me that her mother, my 97 year old aunt, Aunt Margaretta, had died the night before. At the end of our conversation, Linda asked if I thought I could send her any memories I had. Memories about Aunt Margaretta? A million. I, sat down and wrote and cried, wrote and cried, finished, sent a copy off to Linda and a copy to an out of town cousin.
I didn’t write a poem, but perhaps I will. An advanced search on the “Academy of American Poets” for references to aunts suggests to me that they are underrepresented. The site locates more biographical references to poets raised by or living with aunts than it does poems about those aunts, and the few lines that surface are too brief if telling, as one by Ruth Stone, who sees she is becoming like “Aunt Virginia, proud but weak in the head.” Meanwhile, this is the prose offering I sent the cousins:

I have at least 12 aunts and many more great-aunts, all of whom I have loved, but Aunt Margaretta is in the top of aunts who nurtured, amused, babysat, and loved me, and whom I love most dearly. I am glad to say that in my past three years back in Ohio, I have been able to visit her much oftener that in the previous 40 years, and I am most glad to say that I always took chocolate, and as she wolfed it down—and I do mean Wolfed. It. Down—, she and I would quote her son Bob, reported to have said as a boy, “Candy good for me.”
Gladys, Wilma, Grandma Young, Margaretta, Madeline

She is the oldest of the four daughters of my maternal grandparents Gladys and Jim Young, and my mother Gladys is the youngest. In between were Aunt Wilma and Aunt Madeline, all three of whom were present in my life throughout my life until they preceded their sister in death, all of them dear to me. There were so many things to love about her. These are a few of them.

I loved how she invited us over every year to pick cherries from her huge sour cherry tree and the ensuing cherry pies she and my mom baked and froze and we ate for months after, not before eating half of the cherries while picking. And while we are on food, among my cherished recipes are those for her raisin-filled cookies, her sugar cookies (secret ingredient: nutmeg), and her suet pudding, which was always the treat at Christmas. I have a friend in Michigan who will do anything for my Aunt Margaretta’s raisin-filled cookies.

I loved all the drama between her and Uncle Leroy over the Leesville Lake cottage he wanted and she never did and I loved the weekends they invited us to stay at the cottage. One long weekend when all six Kendigs and some of the Luddens stayed there,it rained the whole time. We watched old black and white movies and stayed up late eating her homemade fudge. And we all recall how at night, she pulled the blinds down, saying in mock scolding, “No show tonight!” supposedly to the hoards of Leesville Lake denizens who were standing around hoping to see us in our nighties or less. To this day, if you say “No show tonight,” to the cousins, we all laugh, remembering the way she said it. And speaking of drama with Uncle Leroy, how about the time she cleaned out the old tie boxes in his drawer and burned them, only to learn too late that they were where he was hiding a stash of $20 bills? What a great pair they were, and, now they are once again, too.

My brother once called her, “the most well-adjusted person I have ever known,” which she was, and certainly she was compared to my flightier mother. So they made a great pair, too. “Now Gladdy May, just stop,” she would say when my mom got on her last nerve with fussing. She was always the big sister to my mom, buying my mom a dress and picture for Mom’s high school graduation in the depth of the Great Depression when my grandparents couldn’t afford them. Actually, Aunt Margaretta was a great big sister to all three of her sisters, the four of whom to this day, we still call “The Young Girls.” Her house, where we had so many family dinners, was one of the last places that Aunt Wilma visited before she really couldn’t visit anywhere anymore because of Alzheimer’s. My mom’s funeral, as upsetting as it was to Aunt Margaretta, was one of the last places Aunt Margaretta got out to before she really couldn’t get out either. They were such a powerful quartet, those Young girls, and if the four of them have managed to get together by now, there must be quite a din somewhere because the four of them always felt that there was nothing at all wrong with all of them talking at the same time. Loudly. Shouting over each other, trying to top each other in volume. Laughing. My cousin Bob recorded one such scene of three of them with their spouses. The men barely got four words in the whole hour while whole minutes go by where you can’t understand a word because all three Young girls are yelling. Talking, they would say.
Wilma, Madeline, Gladys, Margaretta
Aunt Margaretta had the best laugh, a school girl giggle that went on and on. Aunt Madeline, certainly the funniest of the Young girls, kept us nieces in stitches with her wiseacre remarks and jokes. (Once on the phone when she couldn’t identify which niece had answered, she said to my sister Daun, “I can never tell you girls apart. Next time I call, answer real sexy so I’ll know it’s you.”) But Aunt Madeline could say these things without cracking a smile herself. Aunt Margaretta, on the other hand, could barely tell a joke, she would be giggling so much before she got started. She was like that character in Mary Poppins, who “loved to laugh: loud and long and clear.”
When my sister Daun and I were students at Edison and Perry High, we often stayed after school at the last minute for an extracurricular activity. Then, instead of using the pay phone to call our mom for a ride home, we would walk to Aunt Margaretta’s house, thus saving a quarter AND getting to eat cookies and ride her front porch glider. I think Daun and our sister Beth and our cousin Tussy and I about rode that glider out when we spent long summer afternoons at her house playing and eating infinitely many cookies.
So I was just undone when Linda told me that in her last conversations with her mom these past three days in hospice, as Linda sat with her, Aunt Margaretta said, “I have to go babysit my niece.” She has six grandchildren, all of whom she had babysat often, not to mention great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, so this seemed a strange statement. Why not, “I have to go babysit my grandchildren, or even, “I have to go babysit the kids”? Linda asked. “What niece are you going to babysit?” and she answered, “Daun.” Daun is my sister who died of cancer 11 years ago, and Daun has just won the lottery of babysitters.
And we, who are left here without Aunt Margaretta, have just lost the best.


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