Aunt Marie

THE WATCHER

She always leaned to watch for us,

Anxious if we were late,

In winter by the window,

In summer by the gate.

And though we mocked her tenderly,

Who had such foolish care,

The long way home would seem more safe,

Because she waited there.

Her thoughts were all so full of us,

She never could forget,

And so, I think that where she is

She must be watching yet.

Waiting till we come home to her,

Anxious if we are late—

Watching from Heaven’s window,

Leaning from Heaven’s gate.

                                                                    ~Margaret Widdemer

I was in a Hallmark shop a few months after the sudden death of my mother Edith, when I saw this framed poem on display. As I read it, the tears started flowing, because the sentiment was so like my dear mother. We almost always parked by the back door at her house. She would hear the car on the gravel driveway and walk to the kitchen to greet us, and when we were ready to leave, she would escort us to the same door, and by the time we had backed out to the road, she would be waiting at the front door to wave to us as we drove away, wishing us safely home.

My sisters, my brother, and I took our mom’s passing very hard, and one of the things I missed the most about her were those little waves of goodbye. Her sister, my Aunt Marie, sent off her loved ones in the same way. She became like a second mother to me.

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Edith (Mom) on the left, holding Jane; Marie on the right holding Woodrow, Jr; my brother Everett in front. (c.1940)

Edith and Marie, the baby, the sister who was closest to her in age, were always close. They had the same number of kids—Mom had one son and three daughters, Aunt Marie had three sons and one daughter. My cousin Joan and I were only six months apart, and the babies of the families by a big gap in ages. We grew up playing together, sometimes with dolls under the big willow trees at our farm, sometimes in her sandbox, making pies with the sand and the tiny little evergreen cones that fell in the yard.

After I was married and out of the house, I think Mom and Aunt Marie became even closer. They went places together, including visiting their older sister Flora in a nearby town, and they chatted on the phone nearly every day. They even had winter homes in Florida for a few years to escape the cold Ohio winters, and to be near their brothers Jack and Earl. Aunt Marie lost her husband Woodrow in 1984 and never remarried.

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From the left:  Edith, Marie, Jack, Flora, Clara, Walter, and Earl. (Oldest sister Josephine had died at a young age.)

Grandma Maggie Hart in front. (1959-Hart Family Reunion)

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Aunt Flora and Aunt Marie in more recent years, but sadly without Mom. Unfortunately, I can’t find any of Mom and Aunt Marie together.

When Mom passed away in 1987, my sister Judy and I started paying more attention to our Auntie. I moved away not long after that, but when we came home for a visit, I would always try to see her. In the last ten or twelve years, one of her favorite things to do was eat lunch at Red Lobster, which we usually did near her birthday in August. Even if she wasn’t feeling very well when I first called her, she would perk up enough to go out to lunch. The restaurant wasn’t close, so it was a nice little drive. Sometimes Judy would join us, and sometimes it was just Aunt Marie and me. She always ordered the same thing—fried catfish, baked potato, salad and a sweet iced tea. I usually placed an order for deep-fried shrimp for us to share. I always urged her to order the dinner portion, so she could save some to have for her evening meal, but she almost always ate it all. If we had a cute waiter, I always teased her about “flirting” with him. She would blush and tease me right back.

Once, she decided she wanted to go somewhere different. There was a new Cracker Barrel by the mall and she wanted to try it out, so off we went. When it came time to order, she perused the menu for several minutes, then she placed her order—fried catfish, baked potato, salad, and sweet iced tea. I teased her about that for a long time.

Mom and Auntie loved their flowers. They could make anything grow. I’ve seen them break off a piece of a plant, shrub, tree, and stick it in the ground. The next thing you knew, there was a new flowering thing growing there. Whenever I would visit, Auntie would always proudly show me the flowers on her porches and around the yard, and she once gave me a schefflera house plant. Despite my best efforts to kill it, it still lives on in the bay window of my kitchen. Aunt Marie must have sprinkled some of her magic dust on it that lingers still.

In the last few years, Aunt Marie’s health has been steadily failing, mostly from kidney disease, but also arthritis, which she called “Arthur”. She had to stop driving, and going to the hairdresser every Friday morning, but what really hurt her the most was not being able to attend church. After the two bouts of pneumonia that nearly took her, she has quickly gone downhill. She still loved sitting in her little recliner by the front door where she could see the passing cars and the birds visiting her feeders and watch TV, especially her soap, Days of Our Lives…a loyal fan since its inception in the mid-1960s. Mom loved it, too. They would often call each other to discuss new developments, and spoke of the characters as if they were real people they both knew. In recent years, Auntie complained about the characters and the story lines, but still faithfully kept tabs on it every day.

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At the last family reunion she attended

I visited Aunt Marie last week for the last time. She wasn’t in her chair by the door, but in a hospital bed, only coming awake for a few minutes each day, barely long enough to take her medicine that was crushed and transported by a couple bites of pudding or applesauce. It was so hard to see her that way, but I knew I had to tell her I loved her, and that Judy sent her love, one last time. I had always jokingly called myself “your favorite niece” in signing cards, or announcing myself in phone calls. I lovingly kissed her still soft cheek and forehead, and asked if I was still her favorite niece, and she gave a little nod. Still playing along with me, even when she couldn’t speak.

Aunt Marie peacefully passed away early this morning in her home, where she wanted to be, the last of the Hart siblings. She had all her children there, surrounding her with love. She was 94, and she was tired, and she wanted to go home. Your journey is over, Auntie. Rest well. Your family knows you will be “watching from Heaven’s window, leaning from Heaven’s gate.”

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Mabel Marie Hart Walls

August 30, 1918 — March 17, 2013