My Aunt Marge stayed in touch with me as I was growing up, and I wrote to her faithfully for many years. I have saved most of her letters and they rest in stacks of envelopes tucked away in one of those “preservation” boxes the photo companies sell. It is a one-way correspondence because I have few, if any of the letters I wrote to her. She gave me some of my letters a few years before she died, and a few of the letters my mother had written to her as well.
Marge was my Dad’s oldest sister, and Mom and Marge carried on a correspondence until Mom died. Writing letters to her relatives was how Mom staved off the insanity induced by the loneliness of living in far away places with a peripatetic spouse.
Marge joined the Army and became a WAC in WWII. In the photo above, Marge sits with me, Dad and sister Michelle in Brunswick Georgia in 1946. She was on furlo at the time.
After WWII, like most of the other WACs, Marge had been mustered out of the Army, which displeased her because she liked military service and would have made it her career. She completed her degree at the University of Wisconsin state teachers college then moved back to Fon du Lac to care for her mother who suffered with Diabetes and ALS.
After Gramma died, Marge taught in Manitowoc Wisconsin, spent six summers working on two Master’s Degrees at the University of Michigan, in Health and Physical Education, and Counseling, then joined the faculty at South Lakes High School in Sheboygan Wisconsin where she stayed for the rest of her working years. I picture her as very much like Our Miss Brooks, or the school teachers who pop up in the older movies..some one to emulate, some one to admire.
When she retired, Marge joined groups dedicated to the welfare of the aging and became a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on Aging. Marge lived in an apartment complex in Sheboygan with other retired teachers, each with their own unit. Over the years, I met many of Marge’s neighbors, but remember Marie the Latin teacher and her sister Susie the Broadway producer best.
In the photo above left, Marge is the sister in blue at my Dad’s 75 birthday celebration. The sisters gave him the red University of Wisconsin shirt for his birthday present (their undergraduate school).
After Marge retired she was older and lonely. She told me it did not matter what I wrote in my letters to her. “Just write.” So I did. I also got her to visit David and me in Virginia a couple of times, and I visited her every year from the early 1980s to 2004.
Marge was a Dominican, one degree removed from final vows thus a lay person, but she never married. She was very devout but very outspoken and she thought women should be priests. David says when he attended Mass with her, she would criticize the priest if he gave a lousy sermon.
Some years, like those when my professional group met in Minneapolis or Chicago, I would fly into Billy Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee and drive up to Sheboygan to visit her. On those occasions I would stay with her, and not in the B&B David and I used when we visited her together. Her apartment was right on Lake Michigan and was very pleasant in the summer with windows open, curtains lifting in the breeze and swallows flying under the eaves to nest.
In the early 2000s, I had a stroke sometime after my last visit, and did not see Marge again before she died. She and the other teachers lost their apartments because a greedy developer from Chicago turned the apartment complex into vacation condos for élite Chicogites. After that, Marge went into a retirement home and died a year later.
In my mind’s eye, I see my Aunts, all positive women, some would say hard but fair. Marge is the leader, the older sister, always faithful and always there.
Above is a photo of the sisters on their way home from Tennessee to Wisconsin after Dad’s birthday party. Priscilla was dead by then, and Aunt Rita must have taken the photo as she is missing. Notice the sisters are eating apples. They were all health nuts. Marge is in the middle, Rosie to her right and Bernie to her left. Bernadette, Rosemary and Rita are still alive, living in retirement homes in Wisconsin. Dad, Marge and Aunt Priscilla gone.
To the left is a photo of me and Marge in 1985 when we visited the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington DC. The Basilica is modeled on the one in the former Constantinople, now Istanbul. Marge andIalso drove to Williamsburg to visit the colonial past, and David took her to the Holocaust Museum and the National Women’s WWII Memorial. As always when she visited, the sun shone, the birds chirped and all was right with the world. Marge saw to it.