An aunt is a safe haven for a child.
Someone who will keep your secrets
& is always on your side.
~ Sara Sheridan
Today would have been my Aunt Margie's 108 or 109th birthday. She'd kill me for telling you that.
Aunt Margie wasn't one for admitting her age, so I'm not quite sure any of us knows for certain when she was born. Census and Social Security records differ, and the closest she ever came to telling me was when she gave me a dime dated 1910 and told me that she was as old as the dime. She waited a beat and then quickly added, "Almost."
From left: Grandma, Aunt Tony, Aunt Marge, Uncle Domenico, Grandpa
Whenever she was born, Margherita Berarducci was the third child of Liberata and Donato Berarducci; Antonietta and Domenico preceded her by a few years. As was the custom, my grandparents named their first three children after their own parents; Margherita Ventresca was my grandmother's mother.
Front row, left: Uncle Red (Dominic), Grams, Aunt Ann, Aunt Tony;
Back row: Aunt Vera, Aunt Margie, Mary (My mother), Uncle Jim, Uncle Boot (Dan)
My grandparents had 11 children in all—four boys and seven girls. Domenico, the eldest boy, passed away when he was six or seven, and Elvira and Maria passed before the age of three. As was the custom, the next child born received the name of the first to die, and so on. Therefore, one of my aunts and my mom received the names of the two dead girls, and one of my uncles received Domenico's name.
I've been missing my mother and my aunts and uncles a lot lately. I suppose that as we get older and they leave us, the memories inside tug at us. Over the past few hours, I've been looking at photos of all of them—young, vibrant, sassy. It tears my heart out that they are gone.
I loved all of my aunts and uncles, but I had a special bond with Aunt Marge. By the time I entered the picture, she was in her mid-40s, still unmarried, and caring for my grandmother. She was my godmother, and I spent a lot of time with her. She'd take me shopping, and I'd stay overnight with her and Grams at their house and, later, apartment.
Since it's her birthday, let me share four memories I have of her.
Aunt Margie (L) and my mother
Aunt Margie always had the same breakfast—two slices of toast with butter, an orange (always on a paper towel), and a cup of coffee. Even though she smoked, she was in relatively good health because she had that orange every morning. She could cook, but while Grams was alive, she yielded the pots and pans to her mother.
She did not like to waste food. She took me for lunch once and ordered a hamburger for each of us. I promptly took the tomato off of it.
"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded.
"I don't like tomatoes," I mumbled.
"You eat tomato sauce. You eat ketchup. You will eat that tomato," she snapped at me. "I did not pay good money for you to waste it."
I ate the tomato and developed a taste for them. I often wonder what she would think if she knew I regularly eat toast with fresh tomato and avocado.
Aunt Margie with her blonde hair
HAIR SHE GOES
As did all of her sisters, Aunt Margie had black hair when she was young. At some point when I was still pretty young, she decided she wanted to be a blonde, and my cousin Marge (named for her) was a beautician. I was at the house on the day Marge and Aunt Marge descended into the basement of my grandmother's old house to work the magic. Being as young as I was, there was no way I was going into that dark, damp cellar. It scared the life out of me, as it was, so I just waited upstairs with the others.
Marge came back up a bit later followed by a woman draped in a huge plastic bib and covered from eyebrows to neckline with purple goo. To this day, I remember how afraid I was, and I hid in the dining room until the two of them went back downstairs. The woman who came up coiffed and better-looking than that purple-gooed thing sounded like Aunt Marge, and she smoked like Aunt Marge, but I was still too confused to go near her.
Aunt Margie and cousin Marge
For some reason, Aunt Margie was always late when she had to be somewhere. I should say always as she was punctual when it came to work, but for a family dinner or something, she was always late. It drove my mother crazy as she would prepare a meal to be ready at 1:00, and Aunt Margie would show up anywhere from 20-45 minutes past the time.
I honestly don't know why Aunt Margie was that way, and I'll admit that it would drive me a little batty if I had to deal with it. That said, I would have done exactly what my mother started doing: Mom would tell Aunt Marge that we'd be eating at noon so that Aunt Marge would show up by 1:00.
Jason and Aunt Marge
JASON SPEAKS UP
When Mike, Jason, and I were living in Columbus, Mom and Aunt Margie once came down to spend a few days with us. At the time, Jason was in first grade. He loved both my mom and aunt, so he wasn't shy about talking to them. After dinner one night, Aunt Marge lit a cigarette while at the table.
"That stinks," my son exclaimed as I crawled under the table.
"Out of the mouths of babes," Aunt Margie laughed as she put out the cigarette. After that, she went outside to smoke.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Margie. I miss you.