“Put as much frosting as you want on those cookies; it will keep you sweet!”
My aunt Marilyn stands in my memories, wearing a dress with an apron which she had sewn herself, rolling out cookie dough or stirring up something equally delicious in the high-ceilinged old kitchen.
On the days I got to spend alone with her, my older sisters in school, I felt like a lucky little queen bee. She would set aside a few cookies just for me to decorate, and there was always a little cup of cold milk to go with them.
One day last week, I felt a rush of sadness and searched for a reason why. I glanced at the calendar, and realized it was aunt Marilyn’s birthday. Earlier this spring, we marked 50 years since her death, long enough for the ache of loss to be healed fully. And yet, inexplicably, tears fell.
There are some people who leave a tender place in memory and in the heart, the reasons varying as life’s seasons continue unfolding.
Early on, we mourned her dying at the young age of 35, just as her mother had when Marilyn was only 12 years old. Never married, we were my dear aunt’s babies in every sense of the word, and much of the time we held her undivided attention.
When our mother was too busy with the demands of helping with the farming and running a hopping household, aunt Marilyn’s calming attention was a balm like no other.
Not long ago, I ran across a black and white photograph of Aunt Marilyn holding the 3-month-old me in a little dress at a family picnic, looking so happy. It touched me to see her joy, the purity of a love like no other.
“Now don’t make a peep!” she would instruct us when tucking us in to bed on the evenings our parents had a rare date night out. We would giggle and count to five and then all say, “Peep!” She would poke her head back in our bedroom, trying to look stern, but her smiling eyes proved otherwise.
When I grew up and married, I felt her absence. When my sister suffered through a horrifyingly long and very difficult labor and delivery, she felt our aunt’s angelic presence.
Our mother still makes her delightful Christmas bread, the recipe aunt Marilyn guarded with secrecy so it would be a treat to those she gifted it to over the holidays.
Fifty years, and it seems this all is relegated to ancient history, but as we enjoy our own grandchildren, we often say how much our aunt would have enjoyed each one. We think of how short her life was as our children reach and then surpass the number of years she was given.
Love grows even after death. The birthday of a kind and giving aunt so quietly reminds us, and taps us on the shoulder. We are being told in unspoken ways to live a life filled with such a generous love that one day others will wipe tears while smiling, wrapped in loving memories.
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