Sunday, September 29, 2013

Goodbye Aunt Mary Kay

Mary Kay - Graduation - 1962
We lost my aunt Mary Kay a few days ago to cancer.  It seems that cancer has taken far too many of our family members lately…but since we are from a large family – we must remember that with great blessings comes loss as well. 
My grandparents Frank Stewart Johnson and Helen Marian Gage were married in 1939 and by January 1946, they had had five children.  My father was the oldest and the only son (b. 1940) and then four daughters followed:  Shirley in 1941, Anne in 1942, Mary Kay in 1944 and Frances in 1946.  The longest distance between children was between Anne and Mary Kay – and while it might not seem that significant to most…it was definitive gap.  I’m sure when they were small that it must have felt like Dad, Shirley and Anne were almost “the three musketeers!” My grandparents had moved to North Dakota when they had married and their first three children were born there.  They came out to Idaho in early 1943 in the dead of winter.  I have often thought that it must have been difficult for my great grandmother not to get her hands on her first three grandchildren until they were a bit older.  Grandma Gage got to take care of those three grandchildren when their mother went to the hospital in Moscow, ID and had Mary Kay.  I’m sure it was a special occasion when Grandma Marian could present her newborn daughter to her mother.   
Mary Kay with her father, Frank Johnson
I can remember my Grandma Marian saying Gene, Shirley and Anne then the little girls.  I know from my own perspective as being the youngest of four, I used to feel left behind because I wasn’t quite old enough to feel included. 
Back Row - Gene & Shirley -
Front Frances, Mary Kay & Anne

Left to Right - Frances, Shirley, Mary Kay, Anne & Gene - Marian behind
I have often thought that Mary Kay must have felt that way – plus she was a sickly child and wasn’t able to play and do as much as her siblings.  Plus her younger sister was tomboy with a “large” personality and Mary Kay didn’t quite fit in with her.  It didn’t help that by the time she was seven or eight years old my Dad and Shirley spent a lot of time out working and she spent very little time with them.  They were all out of the house and married by the time Mary Kay was 13 years old.  It might have been easier to have the older siblings around since Mary Kay and her younger sister, Fran fought like cats and dogs.  They were supposed to do the dishes together after meals and quite often, my grandmother had to separate them.  In fact, I don’t think that they got along well until they were adults.  After my grandmother moved to Lewiston, ID from Canby, OR in 2001, I think that Frances and Mary Kay became as close as two sisters could be and were the best of friends.  It is amazing what time and love can do for a sibling relationship.
In many ways, Mary Kay was the most adventurous of her family.  She alone traveled outside of the Pacific Northwest as she joined the Air Force and later the National Guard.  She had experiences and met people that her siblings never had.  I don’t think that her life was easy and like most of us, she made some good and bad choices.  I know that towards the end of her life, her family became even more important to her.  Mary Kay enjoyed camping and fishing and made a point to come up to Idaho to go camping with her sister up on the Lochsa at Powell Ranger Station.  I don’t think that she had missed many of the bi-annual family reunions during the past 20 years and it was extremely important to her to not miss the one this past summer.

Despite being very weak and showing the ravages of cancer treatment, Mary Kay sat at a table with her children and grandchildren surrounding her.  I think that I will always think of the expression of peace and pride that I saw on her face.  In my mind’s eye, I think that I will remember Aunt Mary Kay sitting in her chair out by her Motor Home enjoying her morning coffee and the loving attention of her dog talking to each family member as they walked past.  Mornings on Hatter Creek were like that during family reunions – it was those quiet times when we would meet each other on our way to somewhere else.  I would like to think that Mary Kay was welcomed by her beloved parents and grandparents and when we have our next family reunion, she will join the others looking down with peace and pride at their family.  Mary Kay was a beloved mother, grandmother, sister, cousin, and niece to the many members of a large family, and she will be missed and well-remembered.
Taken in 2011 - Frances, Anne, Marian, Gene, Mary Kay & Shirley