My sister Mary

This afternoon I’m visiting my sister Mary. She lives in Donwood Manor in Winnipeg. She’s celebrating her 92nd birthday this month, September 24, 2021.

I had another sister Helen, who died at age 99 in 2020. That was the year of the Covid 19 pandemic when gatherings were restricted, so the funeral had to be held via Zoom.

With me on this visit is Anne-Shirley Clough, my partner. Mary’s daughter Edith and her husband Brian are also here with us in the Fireside Room at Donwood.

When I was in my mother’s womb, I fought for space with a large tumor the size of a grapefruit she had near her stomach. People say I should never have made it, but I did.

My mother was sick after I was born and could not care for me, so Mary became my caregiver. She carried me in her arms with the result that my Oedipus love is for Mary. She is the singular person in my life who loves me without condition. Throughout my life I have known her to be the one I could talk with in a crisis.

When I was young and got lickings, she would put her arm around my shoulders and console me.

We had a brother. His name was Wilfred. He died at age 14 three months after I was born. He had a cleft palate. Medical treatment was not as sophisticated as it is today, and his palate showed.

In Birkenhead School at the west end of the village Neuenburg two miles from our farm, Wilfred got teased by the village bully.

Mary went to bat for Wilfred. She confronted the bully and sometimes beat him up.

That’s who Mary was, taking care of us.

When our parents grew old and infirm, Mary took care of them. For several years she visited them daily.

Mary is the best-looking tenant at Donwood. Others her age are bent with age and wrinkled, but Mary’s skin is smooth and her smile is a winner.

In her life with Herman, Mary was a gracious hostess. She often prepared full-course meals for visitors. She was known to be an excellent cook. She fixed meals that were a sight to behold in her dining room, complete with tablecloth, fine china and silver cutlery. Some of the dishes she made were from her mother’s recipe book, but she was creative, seeking ways to enhance her exquisite meals.

My mother carried the gene that gave babies cleft palates. Wilfred had one.

Mary’s son Gerry had one as well, as did her daughter Edith’s son Jon. It caused her unspeakable pain, but she and Herman were great at caring for all members of their family.

They had a summer cottage at Ponemah, where Mary at first enjoyed solitude away from the city. As time wore on, however, more and more visitors came on weekends when she and Herman made rollkuchen served with watermelon. They made 100 dozen the last year they owned the cottage. Mary had to make many meals for guests, so the lustre of summers alone by the lake wore off.

My daughters have a special place in their hearts for Herman and Mary, who came with their family many times to our house for Christmas and Easter dinners. Herman was always Uncle Herman, but Mary became Aunt Mimi.

If we had followed our parents’ pattern, we would have all died young, but my sisters and I are fortunate to have lived long, productive lives.

Even though she struggles with the buttons on her cell phone, Mary is still sharp as a tack, ready to laugh and still a bit shy, which makes her even more beautiful. At 92 she is an inspiration to us all.

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