Aunt Marian

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.)



13 thoughts on “Aunt Marian

  1. I only met her a couple of times, but really thought she could have been a great friend. I miss her, only based on what your family has told me of her. I am sorry for your loss. She is irreplaceable.

  2. I am sorry to hear of your Aunt’s passing, but your tribute is beautiful. May her memory be a blessing.

    Those grape pies look delicious. I must confess I have never seen or heard of them before. Must be a delicacy of the Mid-West?

  3. She was nurse at the clinic when I was a kid. she probably knew a lot of very personal info about everyone in the area from our visits there. she was a classmate of my mother at the Chesterfield High School. There were 5 or 6 girls in that class and she named them for me. I never knew those ladies were Mom’s classmates and may not have ever known if Marian had not told me. She always told me when Mary Agnes McAliney was in the area. She had been my mother’s best friend. I finally figured out a couple of years ago that Marian and my dad’s first cousin Birdella Haven were sisters-in-law, When I had questions about local history or long gone people or anything else she always had the answer. One of the ladies at church said that Marian went with them to a Beth Moore conference which surprised them that she wanted to go. She was in her 90s then. We drove her to Jacksonville to see Birdella one Sun. afternoon last fall. She took some fiction novels for Birdella to read. She must have spent some time reading herself as I think she had read them herself. She also slept at church, not just when driving. I did worry about her falling asleep when driving. She was going to come and show us how to prune our grape vines and told me how to make grape pie which I immediately dismissed thinking, Whoa! way too much work. She must have been a good time manager and not wasted any. i have a lot of respect for her and if we all worked as hard as she did and gave as much of ourselves as she did, the world would be a much better place.

  4. This is just the beginning. She had worked full time as a tech in a medical clinic for 40 years. She didn’t understand why I chose to retire at 64 especially after she had worked until she was 70. She only retired then because the practice closed when most of the doctors retired.

  5. Aunt Marian was an inspiration to my wife and I can only feel blessed by knowing her for the 10 years that I have. Her influence will be felt for generations, a true icon of a woman.

  6. Sorry to hear about the passing of your aunt, from your blog she sounded like an amazing person. My Great Aunt died a few wks ago at 101 yrs – went for an afternoon nap and never woke up. Women like these really inspire me not only in what they could accomplish single handed but also in their freely giving to others and their community.

  7. Sorry for your loss. Another example of one from the “Greatest Generation.” They are great because they do/did things we coming after only hope to do.

  8. Aunt Marion gave selflessly. She never expected recognition or thanks. She didn’t do things for people out of fear of hurting other’s feelings or a desire to impress. She just served and gave because it needed done and she could do it. I am honored to have known her.

  9. I couldn’t wait to have a girl so I would finally get a “Marion” dress. I loved taking Emma to church wearing that dress that fit perfectly for almost 2 years! Our church potlucks will not be the same. You would always hear people trying to guess what was in the dessert she would make.

  10. So sorry for your loss. Heaven’s gain. It sounds from all the comments, and your tribute that she is both the stuff of family legend, and a great role model and will live in yours and your family’s hearts for a long time.

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