We without children all seem to have the same thought at one time or another. “Who will remember us?” I think of this periodically as I watch my sisters children frolick and play, and was reminded of that very question from this blog. Yet rather than the sad feelings that sometimes accompany those thoughts, I am reminded of a very special woman in my life that never married, and never had children, yet her legacy lives on not only through my mother, sisters, and I but also through my sister’s oldest son who was only 6 when she passed on. Ironically it was he who evoked her name the other day during an otherwise innocuous car ride. From Alex’s memory, and that blog it is why I will share her story now. Some knew her simply as Mary. Others very formally as Mary Katherine, Mary Kay, M.K, and then when Alex started to talk he simply called her K.K a name he still calls her today, a name she relished with a smile. She is remembered, yet she doesn’t leave a biological legacy behind.
M.K came to live next door to my grandparents in the 1950’s. Her mother had long since been gone from this Earth, and as an only child she felt it was her duty to care for her father and the house hold. They had originally lived in O’Hara Township, but her father wanted to move to Aspinwall where he could have his own garden in his small back yard. They also needed to live on a bus or trolley line so that M.K could attend classes at a business school for which she had received a full scholarship too. The house they chose was perched next to the home my grandparents lived in, and the home that my own family would reside in as well. They became part of the family shortly after they moved in when my maternal grandmother began having them over for Sunday dinner. When M.K’s father died Sunday dinner became birthdays, holiday, and Wednesday’s, or a Tuesday or any other week day just because. It seemed the only time M.K didn’t dine with the family was when she was traveling abroad as she was promoted from being Mrs. Kaufman’s (of the Kaufman’s Department store Kaufman’s) personal secretary to becoming the head buyer for the Vondome Shop on the 9th floor, or if tickets to the theater or to watch her beloved Pirates play at Forbes Field or Three Rivers Stadium. It was her shop however was her husband, and those buying trips her babies, but she was not without family for she was adopted first by my grandmother, and then my my mother.
Her name appears in my baby book next to the gift she bestowed upon me, and her photo is on one of the pages. There are slides, and 8 mm movies, and photographs of her interacting with each of us. When my grandmother died, we moved in to care for my ailing grandfather, and KK took over the roll of maternal grandmother. She didn’t bake cookies, or give us treats just because, but she rushed home from work the day I needed 2 stitches in my head, and winding up with a concusion after trying to be Tarzan on the monkey bars at school. As she bent down to kiss my forehead I threw up all over her alligator shoes.
Every year on Christmas Eve my Dad would pile we three girls in the car and we would drive in the snow to town. K.K. always had to work Christmas Eve, but that didn’t mean she had to miss dinner. We would round the block several times as we waited for her to emerge from the revolving glass door. In her arms would be bags of wrapped packages, and we knew that at least one of those packages contained our yearly sweater, yet each year we acted surprised. I still have, and still wear my last Christmas sweater from her.
Later, when I was in high school and she developed cancer and needed surgery it was she who moved in with us. For 8 weeks she stayed, 2 weeks longer than the doctor said she needed too. It was during this stay that she developed a fondness for the soap opera The Guiding Light. Every day I would rush home from school and we would sit and watch together. Then one day she announced matter of factedly “I think its time for me to go home” and she was gone, and while she lived right next door our house seemed a little emptier.
When I announced that I was moving to Connecticut it was she who drove me to the Greyhound bus station when no one else knew I was gone. It was also she who refused to wish me congratulations on my wedding. Not because she didn’t like Jacob but because “You should have invited US. You do have a family to think about you know” It was she who accompanied my parents and sister on two of their trips to visit us in New England, and from one of those trips that I have a photo that I cherish. It is encased in a frame that says “FAMILY”
2002 marked M.K’s last Christmas with us. The cancer had returned, and we all knew it would be her last. On July 29, 2003 on my sister Erica’s birthday Mary K slipped the surly bonds of this Earth and touched the face of God. She left each of us girls a little something, both monetarily and a prized possession for each. Yet this isn’t why we remember her. We remember her because she touched our hearts and thus she does go on.
I know it’s hard to imagine that any one will care when we are gone, or that someone will remember us. Yet even if our biological ties aren’t spread like seeds in an orchard we do leave a legacy behind. Perhaps it will be through a child who shares your name, perhaps like my niece who shares her middle name. Or maybe there will be someone out there who on a hot summer day will evoke our memory by saying “Do you remember when?” The only way we will truly be forgotten is if we want to be…