Oh, the things I don’t know about my great aunt. I was looking at magazines on her table recently and asked her how her parents spelled her name…her mail was addressed to Marian and to Marion and I have written both on the blog. I don’t think she gave me an answer, just a laugh. It must not have mattered to her.
We asked her about her uncle French…was “French” a common name 100 years ago? “No” she said, “I only knew one other person named French. That was French Fry.” We all started laughing. It took her a minute then she realized why we were laughing and we realized she wasn’t making a joke. She said, “I never thought about that before” and laughed with us. I still think that’s funny.
Aunt Marian recently celebrated her 95th birthday.
She passed away on Wednesday.
When I was a kid Aunt Marian was just some lady who lived near Grandma and Grandpa’s and made me itchy clothes. I love pumpkin pie but she didn’t make pumpkin pie. She made squash pie. Squash pie? SQUASH PIE? Mom makes pumpkin pie from real pumpkins out of a can. Now that’s pumpkin pie!
But as I grew I learned more about her and gained a tremendous amount of respect for her. In the last few years I noticed she only slept when she was driving. Otherwise she was working. She made dresses for all of the girls at Christmas and Easter. I think I broke her of making boy clothes. She always gave me blue dress socks at Christmas. I don’t wear blue dress socks. I think she had a sense of humor. She somehow managed to keep her flowers growing, her garden in, her lawn mowed and her apples canned. I can’t do even one of those things. She volunteered at the local food pantry. She made grape pies for the fish fry. She helped at church functions. She kept her thistles chopped. She loved us.
Grandpa and Aunt Marian had an older brother named Billy. Billy was mentally handicapped (hydrocephalus). From what I have put together, Aunt Marian kept Billy with her when she was out picking berries and she had to pick 100 quarts of raspberries every summer. Imagine that. Beating through the brush to pick 25 gallons of raspberries, stabbed by the vines, tromping through the poison ivy, brother in tow and probably horses cropping grass nearby. And not only that she had to milk the cows.
She was in our kitchen about a year ago and saw our milking machine. She said, “What do you need that for? You only have two cows.” What response can you give to such a question? She continued, “I milked 14 by hand.” But it’s worst than that. She milked 14 twice each day by hand. We only milk in the morning. Same barn. Same stanchions. Jersey cows grazing the same places where her Jersey and Guernsey cows grazed. We don’t even churn the butter. We just skim off the cream for our coffee. How lazy are we?
She made time in her schedule to tell us a little about milking. She said her father offered to pay her a nickel if she could milk out one cow before he finished the rest. It took her 5 years to earn that nickel. She also told me that she would milk while grandpa was still in bed. That sounds like something you would hear a sibling say.
But I I have no doubt that she milked 14 cows and tromped through the brush picking berries with her older brother in tow. And maintained the orchard. And made clothes. And rode her horse to school. And worked in a doctors’ office for years. And what else? What else don’t we know about her?
Did you know she made my sister’s wedding dress? She made Julie’s wedding dress too. And several others. Not just the dresses for all of her great-great nieces each year, she made stuff out of the blue. I hate to think of the time she spent asleep at the wheel on her way to Springfield to buy fabric but dresses were made somehow. Maybe elves helped her at night.
This year somebody else will have to make the corned beef and cabbage. Somebody else will have to bake the pumpkin roll for the church potluck. I doubt if anybody will pick up the baton and make 30+ dresses for Christmas. Apparently I’m not up to the task of making applesauce out of 40 bushels of apples. Who will work at the food pantry? Who will make grape pies? Who will buy me blue dress socks?
I miss her already. She was a fine example of love and sacrifice and she was never intimidated by hard work. We are less one hero. If you would like to share a story about Aunt Marian please post it in comments below. I would love to hear it.
Aunt Marian’s Grape Pie (From the Chism Family Heirloom Cookbook (comment if you are interested in a copy.)