"ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN, MERELY PLAYERS. THEY HAVE THEIR EXITS AND THEIR ENTRANCES." .... William Shakespeare
At the time I thought nothing of the fact that my great aunt was coming to stay. There was not much discussion. Maybe my parents needed the income, or perhaps Mary was evicted from her apartment. I will never know. In any event she must have been terrified to leave her home and position, to become a border under someone else's roof.
My father and mother purchased much of her furniture and put it into our apartment. There were persian rugs, mirrors and a 12 piece bedroom set, which was carved and painted in the art deco style of the 1920s. Mary and some of her furniture moved into my bedroom. I distinctly remember my mother dyeing sheets to make curtains and dust ruffles to match our bedspreads. They were a pale apple green.
How sad it must have been for her to share a bedroom with an eight year old. She had no privacy, no place of her own. I cannot remember where she dressed, but I do recall that she smelled like my grandmother, which was a mixture of face powder and Ponds cold cream. And I am sure that she must have been up before dawn to use the one bathroom which was shared by the six of us. I don't think she worked and I have no idea what she did during the day when I was at school.
On warm autumn evenings Mary and I walked to a coffee shop where we always ordered ginger ale and jelly donuts. We preferred to sit at the counter in front of the pastry trays. My legs could not reach the floor and so the stool would spindle about as I held fast to my glass of golden bubbles. After the first bite of donut, the warm jelly would spurt out of the side and down my chin. Both jelly and sugar stuck to my fingers which I would lick with my tongue, not wanting to miss a single speck of the gooey treat. This was no easy task as Mary would whip out a crocheted handkerchief and begin to wipe me down, lest one speck of red jelly soiled my dress. It was a race between my tongue and the hankie. Invariably the hankie won!
I don’t think we said much during our walk, except to talk about the candies displayed in the window of a confectionery. We particularly loved the paper pumpkins, filled with candy corn. Large glass jars held licorice sticks and small white boxes were filled with decorated chocolates. Even though the store was closed, I could still smell the candy and my imagination went wild with the anticipation that one day we might get there before closing time.
Once a week my aunt went to a night class at the high school with my parents. They worked in a copper and silver shop hammering sheets of metal into bowls or candle holders. Her work was far more delicate than my mother's... smaller in scale and prettier. It is the only personal expression of her that remains.
Mary's life was a mystery. A family secret. There was a don't ask don't tell policy back then when it came to adult behaviour. Children were not privy to conversations which involved an older relative. I think that when her husband died, she was unable to live on her own. Many women of her generation were untrained in finance and had few if any skills with which to sustain themselves as widows. In any event, she didn't stay with us very long. Perhaps, it was because she lacked position within our orderly household, as my mother was a force and Mary had little to do and less to say. Or perhaps she got a better offer that afforded her a private room. She left us the same way she came; quietly and without much notice. I am not sure if I ever saw her again.
I wish she had told me about her life when we walked together. But it was not to be. She was simply a quiet little woman in a print dress, who tiptoed through our lives and left without making any noise. Not even a good story. Now, decades later in another place, I am the custodian of Mary’s furniture. I treasure that one silver bowl that she hammered into a lotus flower, inscribed on the bottom with MR. No date.
As I write this little story, you should know that I am sitting on Mary’s chair. And each day when I bring in the mail, I put it on Mary’s art deco chest. Every time I leave the house, I check myself in Mary’s mirror.There is irony in the fact that I knew her for such a short time and yet I am reminded of her every day of my life.
I'd like to think that fate delivered her to our front door, so that someone would remember her. But In fact, I believe she came looking for a home and only found a way station.