Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Maybelle Barnett 1899-2009

I took the pictures above in 2004 when my Auntie Maybelle was 103. We had spent the day out shopping and going to lunch at her favorite diner. There was nothing about her that wasn't engaging and clear. She didn't really want her picture taken but I bugged her and I am glad now. She lived in her own house in Hawaii which she helped build in her eighties until she died this year shortly before her 109th birthday.

Smart and full of laughter, ready to fight to the last, auntie's long life was amazing and simple. The picture of the trees is of the small cemetery next door. She imagined that she and her fourth husband Archie might commune someday there once she had passed on. Below is a story taken from some of our talks together. All the facts are true but of course it is a story in the end.

(Update: one of my aunts noted that she thought that my dates are wrong in this story from my dear auntie. Well, all I can say is that Auntie Maybelle told me that she was born in 1899, which would make her almost 110, not 109 years old when she left us. I can only imagine how one's true age might get jumbled after so many years on earth.

8.10.10 Mystery solved. Today I found my aunt's birth certificate. She was born Oct. 22, 1900. I can only imagine that her soul connection must have been in the 19th century somehow. Her stories from relatives who experienced the civil war seemed like yesterday to her.)

Morning at 103 by Ann-Marie Stillion, 5.11.2004

Wherever she looks there is the past.

Thirty thousand nine hundred and ten mornings have come and gone. Four husbands. Dozens of cats. Thousands of birds. Only two dogs.

She says that she has only loved one person. She says it was because one person really loved her. It has been almost one hundred years since then.

Every Friday she walked to her Grandma Haynes’ house with her little dog. Two miles.

They walked straight through the quiet, dusty streets of New Haven and on to her grandmother’s grey clapboard farmhouse by the still yellow fields. Cora was that one person who really loved her, she says now. She could see her from the road. Her white dress glowed from the dark, shiny doorway. Holding a solitary rose in between two fingers, her grandmother waved her long arms and shouted.

No matter that 70,000 hours have passed since then. Now a very old woman, she traces her hand along an imaginary road on the kitchen table, millions of heartbeats later.

She has always been slender--shapely but slender. It was never apparent how much she loved sweets. And kisses. There had been thousands of kisses. No one counted those though. It isn’t right, she said.

During three centuries, she has opened and closed her pale blue eyes. Seven million fine blond strands have fallen. Millions and millions of soft champagne strands left in Phoenix and the Panama Canal and later Pearl Harbor. Hundreds of thousands of grey hairs have disappeared in the light, in the rug, in the desert, in the sand. And finally countless white curls.

What was left? One sister sculptured the leavings from her haircuts and twisted the strands into flowers and curls, which she kept in a glass box. Stiff red hair are all that remain of the mother, sister, daughter, wife. Another relative, she says, married only one man. He drank too much, beat his children. But that woman was sturdy and raised seven boys mostly alone.

She had walked into the twentieth century and on into the next without the ponies by the stream or the children tumbling in the dust. She was where she’d hoped she’d be and being there made her forget so that each morning she could remember that one person.

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