Written: May, 2004
Posted: June 17, 2004
I want to put my memories down, to capture them so to speak, so that I can share them and others can enjoy them with me.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my Aunt Mary, but the ones I do have are good ones, full of love and joy and laughter. We were geographically separated and visits were sparse, but when we did get together, it was always as if we had never been apart. It seems to be that way for the Hayes clan. For example, for my parents 45th anniversary, I made a memory quilt. I asked everyone in the family – my mother’s side and my father’s side – to please contribute a square. Now, I was always “closer” to my mother’s side of the family – we saw them more often, kept in closer touch, and I generally felt I knew them better. So I was rather disappointed when none of my 12 cousins on my mother’s side contributed a square for the quilt. My dad’s family, however, blew me away with the incredibly creative squares they sent. Each was lovingly crafted and unique – each told a story of a connection from the artist to my folks. And when I mentioned it to my Aunt Joanne, she pointed out that that was the we Hayeses were – we may not be in touch all the time, but we sure as hell knew what was important.
My earliest memories of my Aunt Mary were from when I was very young. I always felt she was a TALL lady – taller than my mother and certainly taller than me. In reality, I don't think she was more than 5'7" or 5'8", but that early impression stuck with me. Mary and Gene lived in a house on a hill. It was a big, two-story house that sat up on the hill and they had a swimming pool down at the bottom of the hill. There were two reasons I loved to visit – swimming all the time and my uncle's mother lived next door. She always included me as if I were a grandchild, too, and I remember enjoying the visits with "Gogi" as much as with the rest of the family. But the swimming pool was the real draw for me. I loved to swim.
Let me digress for a moment and mention how I learned to swim. It was at my Grandma Helen’s house. I remember it well because she also had a pool. Grandma Helen was my father and Aunt Mary's stepmother. We were all over there, the Hayes and Griggs families, on one of our summer trips north. I was five and very impressed that I had managed to beg, whine, cry, and generally annoy my older cousins Mark and Geoff, and my Uncle Art into letting me come get in the pool with them. They were all 12 – 15 years older than me and thrilled, I’m sure, to be stuck with me when they wanted to be carrying on as teenage boys are wont to do. I didn’t swim when I first went out, but I did by the time the night was over. The boys teased me about whining to get to come out with them, but then being afraid to get in the water. It was Art, I believe, or maybe Mark, who finally decided to teach me to swim by tossing me in the deep end! And it was Geoff, my lifelong hero, who fished me out and trounced his brother and "uncle!" And while I doubt any of the boys remember it – I do, and Aunt Mary remembered it as well, because we laughed about it at my father’s funeral last summer. She said she’s had to work hard to keep my father – her brother "Tommy" – from throttling her sons and Art!
Now, the cardinal rule of swimming pools is, of course, no running, and I, of course, never obeyed. So I remember spending a lot of time sitting on the side with my cousin Peter Scott and later, my brother Tim. I also remember how, when I would fall on the concrete, I would always get a hug from Aunt Mary – she usually smelled of suntan lotion – and then a good talking to. And I can remember sitting in her lap, probably after I’d fallen one time, and thinking how big and soft her breasts were. It was a good place for a child to lay their head.
And those breasts feature in another of my memories. We rented a beach house together one summer – the Hayes and Griggs families. My mother and Aunt Mary had to be enticed into the water, as they usually sat on the shore. But one day, probably after several drinks, Mom and Aunt Mary began teasing each other about getting into the water. Dad and Uncle Gene began egging them on, and they both went out into the water up to about their waists. They were giggling and fooling around, splashing each other and everyone was laughing. In fact, they were so involved in goofing off, neither of them noticed the huge wave that crashed over them, knocking them both off their feet and turning them over and over in the water. When Mary came up, the top of her swimsuit had come off! Everyone was staring at first, and then falling over laughing. My dad and uncle were literally laughing so hard, they couldn’t speak. My mom came up, laughing as well, and pointing at Mary’s exposed top, never realizing that she, too, had lost her top in the surf!
We all used to laugh about how Aunt Mary and Uncle Gene couldn’t get the “boys” to leave home and so they finally moved out! I don’t really remember all the moves in NJ, but I do remember how they moved to be close to young Gene and Susan, so that they could be part of Colleen’ life. Then, when Colleen was mostly grown, and Mark and Denise married and had Kelsey and Brook, Mary and Gene moved again to be close to those grandchildren. After Pete married and had a child, I asked Aunt Mary if she would be moving to Colorado to be close to Pete and Jeanne’s young Jenna. I’ll never forget the wistful look on her face as she told me, rather sadly, that she didn’t think she’d be able to do that. She went on to say how much she had treasured her time with Colleen and Kelsey and Brook and how sad it made her to know she would miss so much of that with Jenna.
The last time I say Mary was at my father’s funeral last July. I remember thinking how absolutely stunning she looked – tall and slender, almost ethereal. I commented on it several times to her, and I think it pleased her to know that she was still so attractive at 77 years of age. I suspect now, as I’m sure we all do, that that ethereal quality about her was the cancer, doing its deadly work. But how lucky I feel to have had that time to see and talk and laugh and reminisce so soon before she, too, left us all.
When my mother called to tell me that Aunt Mary had died, I was struck by the coincidences. She had the same type of cancer my dad had, lived for about the same length of time after diagnosis as he did, and died on the same day of the week – Thursday – at about the same time of day – 6:00 am – as he did. And I’m sure, when she arrived in heaven, that my dad – her brother “Tommy” – was there to greet her. She lived a long life, a happy life, a good life. They say that a woman’s most precious jewels are most clearly seen in the lives of those she leaves behind. Aunt Mary left us diamonds in each and every one of her boys. Her life has touched so many people and her legacy will live on in their lived and the lives of their children.
I’ll miss you, Aunt Mary. Thanks for enriching my life.