Aunt Peggy’s dandelions…

I can remember in fall of 1960, when my Aunt Peggy lay sick at home we all piled into the car and last-minute I ran around the yard on West 114th, snatching dandelions and wrapping them in tin foil to give to her. When we got to Grandma Spellacy’s house we were allowed to go into see her two at a time, upstairs in her front bedroom. There were two twin beds and she was in the one closest to the street by the window. I showed her my dandelions for her and she smiled and told me to put them into the little vase that she had. It looked like this. That was the last time I saw Aunt Peggy. I think they let us kids come and visit because they were  just beginning to realize how sick she was. She went into Lakewood Hospital and had a blood transfusion and then was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic and died there suddenly. Years later I can remember my Uncle Leo telling me how when she died so suddenly only he and my Grandmother had been there with her and that all the way from the Clinic, Grandma didn’t say anything on the way home in the car until they were coming up on the rise as you pass Edgewater Park on the west shoreway and then Grandma said, ” Mary’s not alone anymore.”

My Grandmother was talking about her little girl Mary who had died suddenly on July 4th, 1924 ( 36 years previously) when she was handed a firecrackers and the flame caught onto her dress and she was so severely burned that she had no feeling left. It must have been a hot overcast day because my Grandmother Spellacy was in the attic hanging blankets to dry when she heard a commotion and looked down to see her little one in flames, her dress had caught on fire and Grandma raced down and wrapped her in a blanket and then on the way to the hospital little Mary had looked up at her sobbing Mother and said “don’t cry, Mama. It doesn’t hurt, really…it doesn’t hurt.” Her burns were so severe the nerves were gone. She died and I’m sure something in my Grandmother died there also.

Well, years later my Grandmother would face another blow, the loss of another daughter, Peggy. She had always been everybody’s favorite, a gregarious, fun-loving daughter and Aunt, a respected Juvenile Court Judge. At 39 years old Peggy had developed what was thought at first to be a cold then pneumonia and finally blood poisoning and was later determined to be lupus. And driving home after that terrible shock of her death it occurred to Grandma Spellacy that her girls would be together, that Mary wouldn’t be alone anymore. And I know she found comfort in this. But after Peg’s death, my Grandparents really began to seem old. A light went out in them and they began to feel and act world-weary and listless. I sometimes think you can only take so many hard kicks to the soul. I think this was the last one they could take, they staggered under its weight and they never got over the loss of her, but they stayed upright as best they could and  continued to love and support their other children.

That’s how Mom’s think about their children, not in years but in feelings. I think Uncle Leo was startled by her still thinking so much about Mary’s welfare 36 years later. But at the time he was told this he was a very young man and he had yet to realize just how your child dead or alive becomes part of every breath you take. Ever. Now he’s a Dad, and a fine Grandpa all these years and when he tells me of this time in my Grandma Spellacy’s life there is such a look of love and respect of his mothers faithfulness both in God and her children that it still shines through his eyes. How much he loves her and now and its his faithfulness to her memory that lets him give me this for an answer when I ask him  “What was my Grandma like ?”.

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