Grace died

THE LETTER from the probate court in Maine landed in my post office box this week. Grace had died back in June. Grace was the second part of Marty & Grace, my two lesbian aunts.

Grace was not really my aunt. Marty was, my father’s sole sister. Grace was Marty’s “partner” of countless decades. I was probably around 10 when they found each other, so Grace was a part of my life almost from the beginning, though we did not see each other much, Marty & Grace, because they were Yankees.

booksMarty was an adopted Yankee. She fled the Confederacy in her 20s and only returned to visit. She and Grace lived in Philadelphia for many years. Then they retired and moved to Deer Isle, Maine, which really is an island. They bought a small, white, clapboard home and never left.

My second ex-wife and I vacationed in Montreal once in the 1980s. While there, we rented a car and drove to visit Marty & Grace in the white, clapboard house. It was my first and last time in Deer Isle. We ate lobsters.

They were a very interesting pair, though I can tell you that I never really liked Grace. There was something defiant about her, not a rare quality in lesbians. I far preferred Marty, who was always upbeat. Of all my relatives, and there have never been many, Marty was most like me, or perhaps the other way around.

She was adventuresome. She took flying lessons but never got the license. I did. She worked in universities and for the American Friends Service Committee, chaperoning young people, exchange students, to and from Europe. Grace worked at the Philadelphia Library until she retired. She was also a noted Emily Dickinson scholar.

Her — apparently quite valuable — collection of Emily Dickinson books is being donated to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Longtime readers of this website and its predecessors will have noticed the quote of Emily Dickinson in the right-side column. Grace had nothing to do with this. Pure coincidence.

Grace was in her late 80s when she died. About a decade ago, she began losing her mind. I don’t recall ever hearing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Perhaps it was a garden-variety dementia. When she became too much for Marty to care for alone in the white, clapboard house, she was moved into a nursing home.

She ceased to even recognize Marty.

On Christmas eve of last year, Marty died in bed in the white, clapboard house. During the earlier years of her “retirement,” she had been a professional binder of rare books.

Grace has now met Emily Dickinson in person, and Marty is binding books for the angels.

My lesbian aunt

MY FAVORITE and only aunt died on Christmas Eve. Her name was Marthalyn, but most people called her Marty. She said she was 89, but I calculate she was 88.

roseShe had cancer that was only noticed a few weeks before she died.

Marty lived and died in a house painted white on an island off the coast of Maine, and she had lived there more than 30 years with her “partner,” Grace, who was an Emily Dickinson scholar.

Marty had worn many hats. She had been a university official, a professional binder of rare books, and she worked in the 1950s with the American Friends Service Committee ferrying exchange students between the United States and Europe.

Yes, she was a Quaker. She was not raised a Quaker.

She chose it as an adult.

I make an issue of her being a lesbian in the headline because neither she nor Grace ever came out of the closet even though they fit every lesbian stereotype in the script.

There was one exception. Marty was not angry. She was a cheery person, the most upbeat of us all. Grumpy Grace, on the other hand, filled the darker requirements well.

Grace lives in a Maine nursing home, having completely lost her mind, a condition that began almost 10 years ago, probably Alzheimer’s, but Marty never used that word.

With Marty’s demise, I am left with only two blood relatives — a daughter and a sister — in my very peculiar* family. We are not prolific. My mother was an only child. My father had just one sibling, Marty, who had no kids, of course.

My sister is also a lesbian, no children. My daughter is 47, married but no kids. Clearly, we have never had big family reunions.

Now we are down to three. My daughter is the last limb on this peculiar tree. And Marty comes out of the closet today, posthumously.

* * * *

*  “Peculiar.” That was my mother’s preferred word for the family she married into, including the two kids she spawned.