As a child who grew up in the 50s, I was blessed with not one, but two, Aunt Marys.. Most of my friends only had one, and there were a few poor children who didn’t have any.
My mother’s oldest sister was Mary, as was my father’s oldest sister. As we lived in the same small town as Dad’s family, it was his sister whom we saw most.
Aunt Mary (Walsh) was the pivot of my paternal family. It was she who cared for the younger children and my grandparents, especially my grandmother, after my grandfather died in 1953. Aunt Mary’s meals appeared on many tables, and not just those of family. She seemed to always know when someone was ill or in need and thought nothing of walking all over town to help.
Many’s the time I walked with her out to Nona’s ( my grandmother), either via the railway line, which was very exciting, or via Hungry Head Road. That only happened if she had called to collect me. Any time spent with Aunt was wonderful. She’d tell me stories about the family or teach me the names of plants and flowers. It was she who taught me to skim pebbles in the creek and showed me dragonflies near the banks.
Of course, you know that dragonflies are fairy messengers, don’t you? They bring messages to children while they are asleep. If you dream
of fairies, that’s because you’ve seen a dragonfly. I know that’s right, Aunt Mary said so.
If we walked out on the railway line, it was a bit quicker. She had me listening for trains all the time. Little did I know that our adventures were timed to be well within the few times a day that the train passed through. I was always looking for lost treasures between the tracks, as Uncle Herb, Aunt Mary’s husband, told me he kept finding lots of money when he worked on the tracks. I did find a few pennies, but most had been flattened. The local boys thought it great fun to put a penny on the rails and hope the train ran over it.
Aunt always carried a basket out, often with a meal for Nona, sometimes her newly cleaned washing. Coming home was different, her basket would have plant cuttings, jars of jam or preserved fruits or sauces. Many of the latter, she would have made with Nona, and if I was very lucky, I would have helped. *
Both my grandmother and Aunt were very involved with the church. They provided flowers, cleaned the church on roster, visited the ill and the bereaved. They were also enthusiastic members of the Country Women’s Association or CWA.
While very active all year round, nothing could compare to the flower shows or the fairs. They entered so many categories that it would have been very surprising if their names weren’t among the winners each year. Thanks to TROVE, I’ve discovered that my grandfather also entered in the garden section and won a prize. #
Aunt Mary taught me how to make delights such as sponge cakes and butter cakes, ‘mushrooms’ and jam drops.. and my favourite baklava. I must admit that I made that a lot more after pre packaged filo pastry became available. Her spanakopita (spinach pie) was legendary, as was her pastitso (spaghetti pie). Though food, gardens, kindness and caring are what I’ve mentioned so far, it was her sense of humour, her laughter and her knack of seeing the funny side of things, alongside my mother, that I treasure most. Those two would get the giggles at anything and often would laugh at themselves, not always at the most appropriate times. Some stories are for family ears only.
We all had a laugh at Aunt’s expense on one of our night walks around the town. There were quite a few of us, including my mother, Aunts Mary and surprisingly, Nita, her sister. It was decided to make the most of a beautiful moonlit summer night. We had walked quite a long way, up over the railway line, past the convent, up on to the highway, down beside the bridge and were walking along beside the golf course, when a car pulled up.
“Would you like a lift, ladies?’
Aunt walked over to the car and went to open the door, with the rest us laughing at first, then getting anxious when Aunt Mary didn’t realise they were strangers. My mother pulled her back, the car drove off and we all dissolved into uncontrollable laughter, except Aunt Mary. She’d thought that the car belonged to one of the family. We saw the same car a bit further up and Aunt just had to tell the driver off for scaring us. Needless to say, they disappeared quickly.
Aunt Mary left us in 1987, she would have been 104 this year, having been born in 1912. The news of her passing affected my Dad very badly. They had taken care of each other all their lives, though she was eleven years older. They wrote each week and also called at least once a week. I’ll never forget how much it meant to him to have her stay for a while after my mother died.
Aunt Mary wasn’t a career woman, having just one paid job, working as a housekeeper in the local hotel when she was younger, but she worked so hard for others all her life. This included working for the Red Cross and rolling bandages, knitting socks for the troops, and helping many local families during WWII.
Everyone should have at least one Aunt Mary in their lives.
(c) Crissouli April 6, 2016