My cousin Maryanne and I were born the same year although she preceded me by a few months into this world. The first time we were together she taught me many things. I believe we were about four. My first memory, steeped in deep awe and admiration, came from the fearless abandon with which she clumped up and down the stairs in Aunt Verna’s high heels. Seemingly unafraid and accomplished in a manner I could only hope to replicate. I was astounded. But I tried to follow her lead. I never took a tumble but I never quite mastered her courageous flights of faith.
About the same time she also showed me how best to enjoy a ladies’ luncheon. In honor of our visit from California, Aunt Verna had invited all the aunts and grandmothers and old gal pals of my mom and while the ladies were engaged in luncheon chatting, Maryanne took me into the spare bedroom where the coats and purses were piled upon the bed and showed me how to empty all the purses – makeup, money, grocery lists, keys – all in one splendid heap of playthings. I vowed at that time, I think, to listen and learn.
A few years later her daring took her into the street in the path of a car and my mother, to my great envy, sent her a Nancy Ann Storybook Doll every single week of her convalescence. At that time it was my dearest goal to collect them all, every fairy tale, every nursery rhyme character. I didn’t regret her the gifts and I knew it was only right given her grave misfortune, but I did feel a twinge at every mailing and scrutinized the selections and counted the numbers carefully. Just last year she showed me those same dolls which she had beautifully kept, and even though they had obviously been “played with” their condition was close enough to what could be dubbed by any antique dealer “mint-in-box.” Seventy years later. Mine were long gone it’s true, over-combed hair-dos and well-worn costumes aside, and I had no idea where they ended up.
In time Maryanne became the sister I never had. Much more than a cousin. The past few years we have talked on the phone every few days – politics (we shared a commonality and passion and I was so proud when she became an official delegate to the convention in Boston a few years ago), gardening (it’s in our gene pool), family history (we made it our personal task and joint effort to sort through the stories and piece together the lineage), and all the fabric of our daily lives. We laughed a lot.
She lost Ron, her first husband, suddenly and way too young. She lost Billy, her last born, in a tragedy that never should have happened. She lost Jim, her husband and best friend, which left a gaping breach impossible to fill. And she suffered the most difficult sort of health problem I can imagine – always gasping for breath. In the end she would not have been faulted if she had fallen into deep depression or embitterment. Not so. Maryanne, on our very last chat just last week, confided to me that she had absolutely nothing to complain about, that she had had a wonderful life and had been so lucky.
On her second go-round of hospice, and with overwhelming impediments to the very basics of everyday life, she found fun and pleasure every day.
Whether it was gallantly conquering the steps in heels, finding the most fun at a ladies lunch, taking spectacular care of her Storybook Dolls, walking straight through the pain of loss, or managing horrendous physical depletion, she is and will ever be my one and greatest role model and dearest cousin/sister/friend.
Top Row, left to right: Maryanne, Harriet, Me, Marlene, Margie, Uncle Lawrence. Bottom row: Aunt Verna, Grandma Ingebretson