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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Gifts (of the Spirit or service) (11/22/07)

TITLE: A Well Kept Secret
By Emily Gibson


My great aunt Marian was considered odd. She usually dressed in somber woolens, smelling faintly of mothballs and incense. Her straight gray hair was bobbed with bangs, unfashionable for the wavy permanents of the fifties and the beehives of the sixties. Aunt Marian was a second grade teacher all her life, never marrying, and she lived for over 50 years in the same small downtown apartment until the day she died in 1975. She bequeathed what little she had to the church she had faithfully attended a few blocks away and was buried in the family plot.

I was overseas when she died, and to my knowledge, none of our extended family attended her funeral as she had become so reclusive and remote. It was not at all clear visitors were welcome so visits to her were rare. In an effort to counterbalance those years of family neglect, I have annually visited her gravesite for the past 20 years, paying homage to this aunt who remained an enigma in life and has become even more mysterious in death.

She grew up in the early 20th century in an impoverished German immigrant family. Her brother dropped schooling early to work in the local logging camps but Marian finished teachers' college and began her lifeís work teaching 2nd grade, and became the primary caretaker in her mother's declining years.

Marianís bitterness over her brother's marriage to a much younger (and pregnant) teenage girl in 1917 created foment within the family that persisted down through the generations. As the offspring of that union, my father tried to prove his worth to his judgmental aunt. She politely and coldly tolerated his existence and never acknowledged his mother. Marian was childless, so her heart belonged to her students as well as a number of children she sponsored through relief organizations in developing countries around the world. Her most visible joy came from her annual summer trip to one of those countries to meet first hand the child she was sponsoring. It seemed to fuel her until the next trip could be planned. She visited Asia and India numerous times, as well as Central and South America.

I moved to my great auntís community 10 years after she died. Iíd think of her as I drove past her old apartment building or the Methodist church she attended. Recently, I noticed a new wing on the old brick church-- modern, spacious and airy. I commented on it to a co-worker who I knew attended that church.

He said the old church had undergone significant remodeling over the years to update the wiring and plumbing, to create a more welcome sanctuary for worship and most recently to add a new educational wing for Sunday School and after school programs during the weekdays. As one of the members in the churchís leadership, he commented that he was fortunate to attend a church equipped with financial resources to provide programs in a struggling downtown neighborhood that had more than its share of latch-key kids and single parents barely making do. He mentioned an endowment given over 30 years ago by a spinster schoolteacher in her will. This lady had attended the church faithfully for years, and was somewhat legendary for her stern weekly presence in the same pew and that she rarely spoke to others in the church. Upon her death, she left her entire estate to the church, well over $1 million in addition to the deed to an oil well in Texas which has continued to flow and prosper over the past several decades. The new wing was dedicated to her as it represented her expressed desire for her neighborhood.

I asked if her name was Marian and he stared at me baffled. Yes, I knew her, I said. Yes, she was a remarkable woman. Yes, how proud she would be to see this come to fruition and to know her gift was being used well.

There were times as I was growing up I wondered if my Aunt Marian led a double life. I know now that she had a well kept secret. She loved and cared for the children she chose as her own and lived a plain and simple life in order to someday provide for others who had little. This was her gift of service.

Her full story died with her. Even so, I mourn her anew, touched by her sacrifice and marveling at the legacy she chose to leave behind.

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This article has been read 689 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 11/29/07
How wonderful!
Patricia Todd11/30/07
Very interesting and easy to read.
Laury Hubrich 12/01/07
This was a very interesting read. Good job!
James Dixon12/03/07
A gentle story that seems touchingly real.
Yvonne Blake 12/03/07
wow! How sad and wonderful at the same time! It's too bad that the family didn't really know her during her lifetime. What a great story!
Esther Phillips12/04/07
I very much enjoyed reading this article. It is easy to read and touches the heart. I'm glad that you found out your aunt had a benevolent side. A nice tribute indeed.
Peter Stone12/07/07
Congrats on your placing. An engaging story of someone contributing to the needs of others, and doing so with the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.
Dee Yoder 05/08/08
It's amazing that there are people we barely know within our own families, and what a surprise to find out they led a life we could not imagine them living. Loving and tender tribute to your aunt.