I received the call I had been expecting Thursday. My uncle called to let me know that my Aunt Betsy, whom I just called Betsy, had died. I had fortunately seen her over the holiday break and I knew how hard it was for her to keep breathing. I am grateful for those two plus hours that we spent together, discussing the current state of affairs in our country, our respective boys, and our relationship over the years. Since the beginning of my memories as a child, Betsy had always been part of my memories and life. Being not quite 16 years older than me, Betsy was always the cool aunt. Being the oldest of five children (with the first 4 of us within 5 years), it was wonderful to have an adult to pay you some special attention. Betsy and I spoke about how she took us to see Mary Poppins at the movies, and how we then spent weeks singing the songs and dancing around our Arlington house. I remember going into Boston with her. I remember her “cool” boyfriend Johnny Purcell. That boyfriend went to Vietnam and brought back two Vietnamese dolls for Margie and I. I remember visiting her and my grandmother at their apartment on Newton Street in Cambridge. She had a really cool creature, called a Wishnick, that she would in the end give to me, that provided me with hours and hours of fun in my childhood. She then had a new boyfriend, one who managed a restaurant that was a Western theme. She then started wearing a cowboy outfit when she started working in that restaurant. On the day that we were moving from Arlington to Hudson, her and that boyfriend, Al, came and picked us up and brought us to that restaurant. We ate cereal there and they later drove us out to our new home.
Betsy and Al later got married, on the day after Christmas, in 1966. While we were allowed to go to the wedding service, afterwards, we ended up at friends in Watertown, banned from the reception. I held this grudge of being excluded from the wedding until the day my baby sister Jennifer got married. She included my two sons in the wedding. Ben started crying right when the organ started playing. Suddenly, I saw the logic of not having children at weddings!
Throughout the 1960s, we were frequent guests at Betsy and Al’s houses in Cambridge and in Medford. Their son Geoffrey became my favorite cousin to play with and to protect from my brothers. In Medford, they had a big industrial spool as a table – how cool was that? And we were introduced to Baskin and Robbins Ice Cream whenever we visited Medford. My parents went away for a weekend and left us for the first time. Off the four of us went to Medford. And Betsy found the four of us out crying by the garbage cans, missing our parents. She was caring and empathetic to our sadness. When my baby sister Jennifer was born, who came to stay with us while my mother was in the hospital? That would be Betsy. And when my mother had her legs operated on, Betsy came back to stay with us and help out my mother with her now five children.
During the 1970s, Betsy and Al moved to Candia New Hampshire. I remember as a high school senior, going up there for a weekend with my best friend Jo-Ann to watch her then boyfriend in a play in Manchester. They then moved to Newburyport, where we had lots of fun visiting Plum Island and also hosting my parents’ 25th anniversary party. I went up before hand to help her set up the party and it was awesome spending a weekend with her, Al, and her boys.
In the 1980s, Betsy, Al, and boys moved to Duxbury on the South Shore. There were lots of beach outings on Gurnet Beach, holidays at their home at the bottom of a big hill, and even a wedding shower for me at their home. Betsy was always a center attraction to any family outing and holiday. I always enjoyed visiting with her and watching her boys grow up.
During the 1990s, her next set of nieces and nephews – aka, her grand nieces and nephews were born. She became a “great” aunt, but we always knew she was pretty great anyways! Her and Al became charter members of my now ex’s law practice and I always appreciated their supporting us by working with David on various legal matters. While the family was expanding and also, not getting together as much, it was always awesome when we did get to see Betsy and Al. Al continued his dressing up as Santa and surprising the new grandnieces and nephews at the Hunter Family Christmas party.
In the 2000s, Betsy and Al bought a house in Falmouth and always opened their doors to anyone who wanted to come down and visit. There were many fun occasions with the boys, on the boat when we learned that one should really heed small craft warnings, and having great family gatherings on the wonderful deck. Betsy and Al were always generous to all, and being with them was always such a gift.
During this decade, there were lots of changes. Betsy and Al sold their Falmouth house to be closer to family and to the city. Betsy had health issues and it was better to be closer to her doctors in Boston. I remember in the very early 2000s, Betsy had some serious health issues and I remember being scared that I might lose her. From their new home in Norwell, they comforted me as I went through a divorce. I went down for an overnight, and I treasured that evening as we watched Shark Tank and Nurse Jackie and for the first time in a while, I felt normal. When I was bidding on my new home, they were the first folks I called for advice on how to go through this real estate process. And then after I moved, there they were again, with my uncle putting up 19 shades for me, while Betsy and I were the helpers. They were there for graduation parties and for going away parties. Suddenly, the almost 16 year gap didn’t seem so large any longer. Over the past two years, Betsy battled numerous health issues. There were times that they didn’t think she would pull out of it, but she always did. And finally, this September, I called her to check in on how she was doing, and she told me she wasn’t very good, and that this was it. I could not believe that, and called my uncle back later to see if what she was saying was true. Sadly he said, it was. During that time, I began to realize that I was not going to have another decade of memories that involved her. It is the end of an era, but I rest easily knowing that she will always have such a big spot in my heart. She leaves quite a legacy as an aunt: on her side of the family, she had seven nieces and nephews. Those seven nieces and nephews have 11 children of their own, so she has been a “great” aunt to 18 of us. I am happy to have had her in my life for so many years, and the memories I have can never be taken away from me. As I fell asleep on Thursday night, thinking about her, I smiled, remembering the time during one family function, that involved the southern cousins, her and my father doing the famed “Rabbit Dance”. Rest easy my great aunt. You were always one that we loved to have as part of our lives. Our lives are so much better for all the love and support you gave all of us.