The Aunt I Never Knew

Her name was Marjorie Ann. Growing up, I heard mention of her name here and there. I knew that her birthday was May 30. I knew that around that time, my grandma was sad. I don’t remember seeing a picture of her. She died of leukemia in 1937, and back in those days, such a diagnosis was pretty much a death sentence. In desperation, the doctors gave Marjorie Ann transfusions from my grandma. They didn’t work.

Hers is a story of the Depression, really, and of her big brother, my dad.

Marjorie Ann was born at the start of the Depression. My dad remembers her being born at home. My grandpa worked for Owens-Illinois, and life up to that time had been good. With the Depression, though, things changed. My grandparents took in some extended family in an attempt to hold on to their house, but, in the end, they lost it.

My grandpa was an identical twin, and his brother went to New Jersey, where there was work. He and his family got settled, and then they told my grandparents they could come and live with them for a while. Problem was, my great-uncle just had boys. They wanted my grandparents to bring my dad and his brother, but they didn’t know about Marjorie Ann.

In the end, she stayed in West Virginia with my grandma’s brother and his wife. Dad has always spoken highly of this aunt and uncle. They took his sister in. They had a car, and they brought her to New Jersey to visit. Still, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my grandparents to leave her.

I never asked how long Marjorie Ann stayed in West Virginia. I have found, over the years, that it is better just to listen when such things come up. I do know that when she was finally united with her family, she became sick pretty quickly. This is what my dad said this year at the time of her birthday:

Today would have been my sister Marjorie Ann’s 78th birthday. She was born in 1930 when we lived at 930 East Park Avenue in Fairmont. She was born in that house and Dr. Trach came to the house to deliver her. She lived only 7 years after three serious illnesses–appendicitis, rheumatic fever, and leukemia in quick succession. When she passed away we were living at 110 Church St. in Bridgeton, and my Aunt Dora also was living there with us. Dr. Myatt had convinced Mother and Dad to take her to a hospital in Philadelphia, and she died there in the hospital. Her funeral was at Uncle Hugh’s on Homewood Ave. in Fairmont, and the presiding minister was Bland Detwiler, minister at the Laurel Hill Methodist Church in Bridgeton. He thought enough of Mother and Dad to make the trip to Fairmont specifically to perform the ceremony. Everybody was impressed by Marjorie Ann’s childlike faith. She is buried in a plot with other family members at Mt. Zion Cemetery near Fairmont. Her memory still brings tears.
The reason I bring this up is that, for a long time, I have thought that my dad felt guilty about Marjorie Ann’s death. He was the big brother. It came across in his attitude, although he never specifically said, that maybe things would have been different if he had stayed in West Virginia. He, after all, was the big brother.
That’s not what I see lately, though. Lately, I just see that my dad misses those people who made it to heaven before him. This is the first time ever that I have heard him mention his sister’s faith. I’m sure it just never came up in conversation, like the other things I didn’t know about my dad until I was past forty. ( He played college football and served as a member of a rescue squad, the old-time EMTs. Who knew?) Still, it is his sister’s faith that gives my dad comfort now, in his later years.
My dad is in good health, for which I thank God, but I wonder, sometimes, if he hears his sister calling. And my mom. And his brother. Does the veil thin as we get older? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes things better for my dad to know that he will see his sister again.
She was only seven when she died. Don’t you think the legacy of faith that she left would surprise her?
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2 Responses to “The Aunt I Never Knew”


  1. 1 Vicki June 17, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    I dropped by to say hi, and thank you for visiting today. But then I was totally captivated by the story you shared here. What sadness, for your father to lose his sister so young like that. But how amazing, that her childlike faith would bring him comfort, even to this day.

    Love your blog! God bless you.
    ~ Vicki

  2. 2 Becky June 18, 2008 at 6:03 am

    Thanks, Vicki. I’m glad you came. Your blog always gives me food for thought.


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