Warmest Regards: Some make a major impact on us
By Pattie Mihalik
I wish there were a better word than “cousins” to describe the closeness of the female cousins I was blessed to have.
There were five sisters in my mother’s Italian family, and all five would do anything for each other. The daughters of these sisters also maintained a special relation with each other.
I always knew I could count on my cousins for anything.
If I needed a dress for an important occasion, they opened their closets. When I needed guidance, they were there for me.
I was four to six years younger than most of the cousins, yet they always made me feel like a special part of their lives.
While each cousin was loving and giving, the most extraordinary was Marie.
My parents divorced when I was 10. In order for me to finish the school year at my elementary school, I had to use my Aunt Theresa’s address.
But the problem was lunchtime. The school didn’t have a cafeteria. Instead, kids walked home for lunch. I couldn’t do that because we lived in the next township.
My mother worked in a factory during the day and my Aunt Theresa ran her small business.
There was no one to let me in Aunt Theresa’s house for lunch.
It was my cousin Marie who solved the problem.
At the time she was a sophomore in high school. Normally she could eat in the school cafeteria.
Instead, she walked 1½ miles home to make me lunch. Best of all she made my lunchtime fun with her good humor and infectious laugh.
What high school kid could be that loving and giving? I think most kids today would never stop complaining.
Marie was extremely popular with the other kids. When one well-off girl was having a big birthday bash at the country club, of course she was invited.
But the birthday girl refused to invite my cousin Buddy because his sarcastic, mean comments turned people off.
Marie said she couldn’t go to the party if Buddy wasn’t invited because “it wouldn’t be right.”
Buddy got his invitation, thanks to Marie.
While each and every one of my female cousins was special, Marie was in a class by herself. I credit her for being my inspiration in wanting to study hard and make something of myself.
That inspiration came when I was in eighth grade and Marie was in the graduating class.
I remember the pride I felt about her accomplishments during the senior award ceremony.
When they announced the top student in math and science, Marie’s name was called.
When they announced the English award, her name was called.
The foreign language award, chemistry and humanitarian awards also went to her.
When the activity awards were given, again Marie was on stage accepting the cheerleading award, music award and the prize for the top vocalist.
The announcer said instead of walking back to her seat after each award, Marie should just stay on stage because seemed to be winning most of them.
I made up my mind right there and then I was going to apply myself to my studies.
I wanted to be smart like Marie.
Marie had one serious problem.
She had a serious boyfriend. She just didn’t recognize it as the problem it turned out to be.
Because of her academic success, she was offered a four-year scholarship to a prestigious university.
Freddy, her steady boyfriend, told her not to take it. “Marry me instead,” he said.
I knew she was making a mistake not going to college. What I didn’t know was that one decision would ruin her life.
Freddy was in the Navy. When he had to live on ship for an extended cruise, Marie came home to our hometown to wait until his tour was over.
When I told her about the great college classes I was taking at night, she was enthralled with the idea of also taking some classes.
Freddy said no. She was smart enough, he said.
A few years later when he left her for another woman, her life fell apart. Freddy’s debt from his high living caused them to lose their grand home. Then he disappeared.
Marie was left with no home and no means of supporting their three little girls.
There was no happy ending. Instead of the life she deserved, Marie led a life of hardship and struggle.
Unfortunately, she lived far away and we lost touch over the years. That was before the days of Facebook and I had no way of reaching her.
This week I heard devastating news from Stacey, Marie’s youngest daughter.
Marie is dying.
As a special favor, Stacey asked me if I could tell her about Marie as a girl.
“I know next to nothing about my mother, and now mostly everyone who could tell me about her is gone,” Stacey said.
It will be my pleasure to tell Stacey about her extraordinary mother.
Whenever a bright girl tells me she is getting married right out of high school, I try to convince her to get an education or job training to fall back on.
Marie taught me that, as well as so many other things.
Sometimes people disappear from our life. But when they are as special as Marie, they never disappear from our heart.
Contact Pattie Mihalik at firstname.lastname@example.org.