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  • Writer's pictureKevin O'Keefe

Alma Mater

Madelaine called.

She said she would fly in tonight, that Ann was entering palliative care and had to be cajoled to take in any food or water.


Such a happy word.

Ann, my mom’s sister. Ann, whom my mother, before she died, used as a point of reference to deflect any judgement on her own failing memory, “Oh, Ann has really lost it, Kev.”

Ann, my aunt. My siblings and I were so ready to throw Mom overboard in favor of Ann. Was it just our over-exposure and familiarity that bred our disregard? We were so petty back then.

An early memory of her is that, although she lived in a house outside Boston, and we lived in a house outside New York, I was pretty sure I passed her home everyday on my way to school. The world was a smaller place back then.

Ann, who could go to the grocery store and return forty minutes later with a rollicking tale of miscommunication between her and any number of trust-worthy strangers, who each turned out to be a character made indelible by her self-deprecating tale.

Ann, whose stock phrases, delivered in her high-pitched soprano, were “Hurray for you,” “You’re little bit of all right.” And when Madelaine told her we were holding her in our prayers, said, “I think the world of those two.”

Ann, who threw the perfect spirals in our touch football games. Who befuddled every twelve-year old batter with her wiffleball slider. Ann, whose lemonade pitcher was never empty.

Ann, who chained herself to the White House fence, who witnessed for peace in Nicaragua. Who practiced civil disobedience at Yucca Flats and was arrested.

Ann, who once made her own vestments so that she could impersonate a nun and was kicked out of her catholic girls high school for the prank.

Ann who had a bumper sticker that said:

Live Simply,

So that others may

Simply Live.

Ann who married Louis, the lawyer from Lowell.

Ann who taught me there were a thousand ways to love Vermont, God and the world.

Ann who painted a large rock in her yard to look like a frog, who played Scrabble, Fictionary and Hearts with a competitive zest and whose living room consisted nothing but old couches, over-stocked bookshelves and reading lights.

Ann who was always there, in the kitchen, on the porch, waving from the side yard, raking leaves, is gone.

Ann, the architect of one of my life’s perfect moments: I was visiting her one fall weekend on Taft Hill in Vermont. Uncle Louis, my cousin Will and I, were clearing a white birch tree that fell near the graveyard wall. The late afternoon light was sharp as cheddar and lingering insects stilled the air. Ann, was making apple pie that filled our breath with warm cinnamon. After the wood was stacked she called us in. We all got coffee and ate a slice on the porch as the afternoon light set over Stratton.

Somebody said, “Mmm, I sure wish there was more apple pie.”

Ann replied, “There is, I made two.”


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