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Here is Aunt Marie posing, all purpled-out and feisty with a bottle of some fermented varietal from the Columbia Valley. Truth is, this beautiful “doll,” as her sisters loved to call each other, was probably just blowing into it, since she rarely imbibed alcohol during the

 52,596,000 seconds

876,581 hours

36,524.2 days

5,217.75 weeks

1,200 months

100 years

10 decades

1 century

of her long and precious life.

This weekend, family from as far away as Kentucky, where Marie was born on a farm on the same day as my own sweet mama, only six years earlier, will be gathering to celebrate her centennial. We love Marie so much! Enough to wear silly hats and maybe some purple or, God forbid, pink, both of which she adores. Enough to over-eat traditional foods with way too much mayo and whipped cream at a potluck picnic in 104 degree heat on the banks of the Columbia River. And the next evening, at the official “coming of age” party at a niece’s home we’ll enjoy a catered spread of goodies and share hilarious and tender stories about our family’s chronologically gifted matriarch until her heart is about to burst from all the love and excitement and she announces in no uncertain terms that somebody needs to give her a ride home because it’s time to hit the sack.

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I love Aunt Marie for a hundred reasons, and one is because she looks so incredibly much like my own mama, Mary. In my favorite photo, taken on their birthday one year on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, you can see the similarity. Marie is on the right. There they are, resting their heads against each other, cute as cotton candy in their matching pink sweatshirts, with their omnipresent 4-prong canes and misty Irish smiles.

To describe Aunt Marie in one word, it would have to be “fortitude,” a word that embodies courage in pain or adversity and implies endurance, strength of character, true grit. Her life has been filled with challenges. When she was just a child both of her parents died and, as a result, Marie lived in a series of homes, including an orphanage. And later, though her education was interrupted, Marie eventually found work, met the love of her life, my Uncle Charlie, and gave birth to four healthy children who love her so much that three of them still live in the same town. Charlie, unfortunately, became so incapacitated with illness that he was unable to work. Aunt Marie rose to this challenge by loving and supporting him, and by struggling for years to keep her family afloat as lead cook at a nearby hospital. Though she was crazy-busy, Marie still volunteered to be the head of the Democratic Party in her town and she was active in church. In her 70s, Marie even took a carpentry course at the community college and built a house working with a crew of students. As you can see, my darling aunt is all about endurance.

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It’s not surprising that Aunt Marie has always had a sharp mind, which was revealed through accurate and detailed sharing of our family’s history, and also via her passion for arguing. I will never forget the hearty howls of Marie (a staunch Jehovah’s Witness) and my mama (a devout, Rosary carrying Catholic) over whether or not more than 144,000 people would get into heaven. I was in early labor at the time and as my labor intensified so did the emotional amplification until I had to be hauled off to the delivery room. But with Bible in hand Marie (and Mama with her prayer beads) stuck with her guns until the very end when a nurse plunked my swaddled-in-pink baby girl in her arms, and Aunt Marie melted.

All her life, Marie has shown phenomenal strength of character, including when we lived in Mexico and she came for a visit. R had just returned from grocery shopping with my mama and Marie, and as they carried plastic bags full of tortillas, mangoes and coffee into the kitchen Marie, despite a gentle warning about wearing sassy high heels when walking on cobblestones, tripped and landed on her nose. It was badly broken and wouldn’t stop bleeding, so R rushed Marie to our local doctor, who sent her to the hospital, where she was thoroughly taken care of, including a session with a psychiatrist. With a bulbous bandage that would have made a lesser woman cry, Marie held her head up high as R drove back home and, once there, she insisted on continuing to unpack the groceries. Not only that, my aunt was up for going out to a dinner at our local beach restaurant that evening, where she flirted shamelessly with the handsome waiter, who flirted right back.

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.

 Albert Einstein said that. I tend to think everything is a miracle. Or magic, at least, and that we’re more or less here to observe and learn to trust. On the other hand, Aunt Marie seems to believe that what appears miraculous in life is actually the result of hard work. Take her famous lemon meringue pie, the featured dessert of nearly all of our family gatherings. Exquisite lemony goodness and meringue crispness to die for. But once when I commented, “Dang, Aunt Marie, this pie must be made by angels!” she just laughed and told me, “Sue, you know I’ve been practicing for years.”

Happy 100, Aunt Marie!

19 thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Fortitude

  1. Great—very cool to read—loving what you chose to illuminate about your wonderful aunt—stirring and thought-provoking–love how you entered the piece–and how you ended it—and the bits about her learning construction–cooking–basically doing what was necessary—and doing what was present–and seeming to enjoy and appreciate all of it–if one can generalize–your lovely tribute is an inspiration. Thank you for publishing it.

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    • I appreciate your feedback, jd, and thank your for it. The celebration began tonight and Aunt Marie never stopped smiling. 100 is a benchmark few of us will reach and we are thrilled that our precious Marie is one who has.

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  2. Dear Susan,
    What a treat to read this post! I miss you and hope all is well in your world. Btw, my grandma Mary Margaret turns 101 yrs. old on Aug 17. Her father lived to 106. To the best of my knowledge, neither of them received a birthday tribute as fine as this one to your feisty Aunt Marie. Hugs to you and R and your Auntie also. ❤

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    • How interesting, Deb. Your Grandma Mary Margaret and I were born on the same day! 101 is an incredible accomplishment and please wish MM every happiness on her special day. Are you in Fairbanks? I am flying in on the 4th and will be there for a month. I’d love to see you, dear lady! ❤

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  3. Susan– finally catching up on reading all the posts I’ve saved, over this busy summer! I loved following your aunt Marie’s birthday celebration on FB. She is such a beautiful woman– clearly, inside and out, and your family is so fortunate to have had her in your lives for so long! What an amazing presence and and miracle she is. Clearly, you come from strong stock! Something I’ve always known. xo

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    • Thanks, Dawn. I really appreciate that you dropped by. My Aunt Marie is our family’s treasure. It was also amazing to be at her centennial and reconnect with so many 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins. We have a huge family!

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      • Seeing family, all together, is so inspiring… it really reminds you of that connectivity. Your aunt is amazing! So hard to believe she’s 100, from any of the photos I’ve seen. That spark in her eyes, her smile… she is really inspiring!

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