Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Gifts (of the Spirit or service) (11/22/07)
TITLE: A Well Kept Secret
By Emily Gibson
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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 life’s work teaching 2nd grade, and became the primary caretaker in her mother's declining years.
Marian’s 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 aunt’s community 10 years after she died. I’d 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 church’s 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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