Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Thank You Note

Aunt Marion & Uncle Ken

After twenty minutes of staring at the blank computer screen, debating between two possible topics for today’s blog, I went to the source, quietly snoring on the couch in the living room.  Within a couple of minutes, I knew what I wanted to write about, but I lay with her for a good while longer; it just feels so good to have a mini-Wookie sacked out on top of you, nose wedged into your neck, back legs splayed in complete relaxation.  If a noise outside hadn’t roused her to action, I’d be there still.

The debate with myself stems from the fact that what I wanted to write about today has very little connection to Cleo.  The alternate topic, which I will get to before much longer because it presents itself every single school day, has very much to do with Cleo.  Can a blog that styles itself as the chronicles of a perfect Bedlington Terrier developing into a therapist for a group of extraordinary adolescents really turn to a topic that has no connection with that particular dog, or indeed, dogs in general? I guess we’ll see.  I do know two things that holding Cleo helped me to recognize: In just over a year, she has become so entwined in my life (and John’s) that there is no part she doesn’t relate to, past, present or future.  And the other is that to neglect writing about my aunt who died Friday night would be a betrayal, not only of her, her family and mine, but of that which makes me human enough to find Cleo beautiful, delightful and precious.

When I was very young, my dad’s next younger sister, her husband and three children moved from Emmaus, Pennsylvania, a little over an hour away from us, to St. Davids, about ten minutes away.  The clear message that penetrated my tot-mind was that both my parents were overjoyed.  My dad deeply loved his sister Marion.  She was his intellectual equal.  She was quick, opinionated, funny, never let him get away with anything, and loved him every bit as much as he loved her.  To my mother, she was a sister, a confidante, someone who loved and supported her, someone who probably had more faith in her than she had in herself.  My uncle Ken was a gentle bear of a man who earned the highest praise my father could bestow: Not only did he trust him, rely on him, and respect him both for his professional expertise (as a minister and an advice columnist for one of the big Philadelphia papers) and as a human being, he believed him to be a worthy partner to Marion.  That may sound horrifically condescending, but Dad took seriously his role of oldest son and had astronomical standards for the person who would become his beloved sister’s husband.

Gwyn & Aunt Marion
My mother was a year and a day older than my aunt, and Marion and Ken married a year and a day after my parents.  Their oldest child and my parents’ were born just days apart.  From the moment they moved to the Main Line, we were regularly in each other’s houses.  My mother and Marion traded Thanksgiving and Christmas for the whole tribe, but really, they were a team and a partnership at every holiday feast.  Family dinners together were filled with uproarious laughter, heated political arguments, unburdening of worries, thoughtful advice.

I loved being at their house, and some summers I would go to spend the night with my cousin Kris and stay for a week or more.  It was they who taught me that families tease each other and laugh about it.  Marion and Ken modeled a loving relationship that had friendship at its core, as well as mutual respect and regard and a love that carried them through over sixty years of marriage.  Kris and her younger sister Gwyn, always close, made room for me and allowed me into their sisterhood.  The house itself beckoned with endless possibilities of adventure and play: an enormous yard with a creek in the front and a mulberry tree in the back.  We would come in from a day outside, muddy from searching for newts or the headwaters of the Nile, and with purple-splotched hands, face and clothes from sustaining our adventures with handfuls of sweet, juicy berries.  At night we would snuggle in their den and all watch Ed Sullivan or Gunsmoke on the black and white television, Aunt Marion exclaiming her delight at Topo Gigio or her children or just at life in general, Uncle Ken humming along with the music in his low rumble that seemed to vibrate in your chest and permeate you with a sense of safety and warmth.

Uncle Ken & Kris
Aunt Marion and Uncle Ken were with us at all of our important moments, from graduations and weddings to hospital stays and funerals.  It was they who my mother called to come take her home from the party at which my father died, they who fought through the aftermath of a blizzard to rescue her when she had the first of the strokes that eventually ended her life. 

Last week, knowing that our aunt was dying, Kris held her mother’s hand and asked her who she was looking forward to seeing on the other side.  Her answer was immediate: “Uncle Dick and Aunt Pat,” she said, naming my parents.

We never say enough to the people we love while they are alive.  It’s too late now, Aunt Marion, but thank you.  Thank you for your years of patience, support and encouragement, up to and including your email last month telling me you loved my blog and that our parents would be so proud of my sisters and me.  It doesn’t matter how old we get to be, those words have profound meaning. 

Uncle Ken, Tim, Kris and Gwyn, words are inadequate.  I am so very, very sorry for your loss.

Mom, Aunt Marion, Gwyn & Kris


  1. This is beuatiful. What a wonderful tribute to a fantastic woman. I miss her already and think often and with the highest regards of aunt Pat and uncle Dick. I miss them so much. Thanks for the reminder of how great they all were.
    Your cousin,

    1. Thank you, Mike. I'm so glad to hear from you. I've been thinking a lot about us kids all those years ago. I hope you and your family are well.

  2. Joyce, I hope you are still not questioning your choice to write about Marion. You have brought me to tears. What a fitting tribute. I am quite certain that Cleo approves, not to mention Aunt Marion. Thank you, dear.


    1. What a lovely thing to say, Maria! Thanks, and a warm hug to you! I hope the coursework is going swimmingly.

  3. What a lovely, moving tribute. I am so sorry for the loss of this wonderful woman. How lucky you were to have had her presence and influence in your life.

  4. Joyce, your thank-you for my mom brought me to tears again and again. Loved the old pictures of my family and the memories from a new perspective. It was fascinating to see your perspective of our family.

    My mother never thought she was the equal to her brothers, and to see that your father respected her as such was profound to me. I would often tell her that she was every bit their equal but she would deny it. What an intelligent woman who didn't give herself enough credit.

    I had been in the middle of writing Mom's eulogy when you sent this link to me. I felt that you captured our youth and the lives of our parents so very well. I wish I had time to read this on Saturday to those at the funeral. Our childhood together was magical though what I remember were the times at your house, no, mansion.The 4th of July picnics,the hat trick at Grandma and Grandpa's 50th anniversary party,the dinners and celebrations. What fun! I, too, still miss your parents and often wonder what your father would have been like had he had the opportunity to grow old.I know my mom missed him though the love she had for your mother gave her another sister.

    I have no doubt that my mom is now celebrating with your parents, drinking wine and martinis as they recount the many memories. How comforting the thought.Thank you for this gift. I can't tell you how much it means to me.

    Kris, the 4th Lower sister

    1. I love that image, Kris! The three of them sipping cocktails and swapping stories, making each other laugh! We were so lucky to witness the love and affection that grew among the four of them.

  5. Oh and one more thing. Mom would have LOVED reading this and reliving the memories. I hope she was reading over my shoulder.

    p.s. Dad looks dorky in these photos but he is still the most handsome man, at 91. And your mother, BEAUTIFUL and classy as always. Always, always. Kris

    1. Not dorky at all! Warm and kind and gentle. No wonder he is handsome at 91 and beyond! I love the way, in the last picture, Mom is just beginning to grin as your mom is animatedly telling her something.