When Mary was a young woman, she fell in love with a young man. Her parents disapproved of their relationship continuing because he did not share her Greek heritage. Mary never married.
Growing up I remember my Great Aunt Mary coming to visit often when we visited my grandparents. She always came with new frilly dresses for me and was ready to play Uno for hours. She was a bonus grandma. When talking about my cousin, Rawlins, and me, she referred to us as “her girls.” She still does.
When our family wanted to travel to Greece we brought Aunt Mary with us. She kept up with us all day long and told stories about her travels back to Greece when she was younger. She introduced us to our extended family on the island of Ikaria after down playing how nice that island would be all week long. The only part of the trip she missed out on were the nights Rawlins and I spent at the disco. She encouraged us nightly to find a nice young man to marry.
Earlier this month my dad’s side of the family gathered together for a family reunion to celebrate Aunt Mary’s 90th birthday. Since Mary has no children of her own and our family has three generations following hers, almost everyone lovingly refers to her as Aunt Mary. Eighty people gathered together to celebrate this woman who has been a pillar of our family. Mary was probably the only person there who knew everyone’s name, how they were related and where they lived now.
Her singleness hasn’t held her back for a second. She had a great career. Her life has been full of travel and adventures. She’s shaped our family by her deep love and her commitment to all of us. She has developed deep relationships with so many. She welcomes nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and great-grand-nieces and great-grand-nephews like they were her own. If Dallas makes the national news for weather or tragedy, I know to expect a call from Aunt Mary checking in to see if me, that handsome husband of yours and that adorable baby girl are all alright. When I think back on my childhood to who loved me best, memories with Aunt Mary always stand out.
It would have been easy for her to separate herself from our family – to be bitter of my Pappou (her brother) who originally hid his marriage to a non-Greek girl instead of playing by his parents’ rules like Mary did. Instead, Mary chose to enter in with love. She didn’t have to focus on her own grandchildren; she loved all of us like we were hers. Poor lady has sent way too many birthday cards and checks. Mary’s family is bigger than most and deeper than most because of the way she used her availability.
This road hasn’t been easy for Mary. I know that mainly because she used to always encourage me to find a man, a nice young man to marry. When I think about the way she lives, there are a few things I always want to remember. First, love your family deeply. Show up for them. Call them. Even the distant family members. Second, travel to places you love often. Mary headed to Greece for the majority of her summers. She deeply values the culture, the food and the people in that country. Lastly, accessorize. Mary’s jewelry is amazing. She has tons of big bold pieces. To fully appreciate her, you need to know that.