“In life we all have an unspeakable secret"

Ande Bliss

Ande Bliss
November 04
Essays, poetry, opinion and short stories. Free lance on line and in print. Favorite quote: "In life we all have an unspeakable secret, and irreversible regret, an unreachable dream, and an unforgettable love.” ― Diego Marchi Personal Website:


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OCTOBER 15, 2011 3:32PM


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"ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN, MERELY PLAYERS. THEY HAVE THEIR EXITS AND THEIR ENTRANCES."    .... William Shakespeare                                                                                                                                  

Some of the players have leading parts. The wise, the wicked, the teachers and the lovers. But it is the minor characters, those with the walk-on roles, that remain mysteries forever. We shall never know the whole WHY and HOW of their being. We only know that they were here for a while and  left without a proper excuse.  Let me tell you about my great aunt. 



Mary Ross was my grandmother’s widowed sister. She moved in with us in September, 1947. We lived in a large home with three separate apartments that were occupied by our extended family.  It was common in those days for relatives to move in for short periods and then move on. Older cousins who were mustering out of the armed forces and going to college in Boston, lived in the attic bedrooms. All were welcome. No one was hungry or homeless and everything was taken care of within the family.  On Sundays as many as 12 or 14 of us gathered for dinner.

 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. 










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Thanks for visiting. During my childhood, three generational homes were common. We all took care of each other. In retrospect it was a wonderful way to live. No childcare needed, no elderly care needed. Relatives were always welcome...even if it meant sharing rooms.
She would most likely beeb pleased that you use and treasure her things.
We should all have one of her. :) r.
Ande, this is wonderful. I especially liked the line "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." It hits home how much you value both people and treasured things... a good window into your heart and into your great-aunt's.
Thank you Bernadette and Jon. It is this time of year...when candy corn is abundant that I think about my childhood. Mary Ross was a part of that.
Good morning Brazen Princess...You are wonderful! And yes there is irony in that story. I think about life that way. Just a string of happenstances. Some much better than others.
I found this story sad for some reason....sad for Mary and sad for the rest of your family who didn't seem to appreciate the treasure they had. I also find it ironic that we don't usually appreciate what we have until it becomes a part of our past. When will we learn? Excellent post!
Thank you Pat. I agree, it is sad. The women in my family...who were my grandmother and her sisters, were Victorians. They really had little to say. I recently met a cousin who said Mary lived with them for a while too. Thing is, she read the story on an on-line magazine last year, and she found me because of the story. Another Irony.
I found this sad too but love that she has you to remember her and keep her things that were special for her.
I do love them. There was one gold colored filigree bottle holder that she kept on her dressing table. It had some faux jewels in it, and I wish that I had kept it. Thank you for your comment.
Her way station at your house sounds like it was a necessary part of your education. Sweet story.
Yes, Mary. I am sure that I did learn a lesson from Mary. If nothing self sufficient and always have a room of your own. An Interesting observation. Thank you.