Missing Miss Mary
6:26 a.m. July 19, 2013, Mary Veronica Flynn is dead. Mary doesn't live here anymore and which is harder to imagine: Mary without Stockbridge or Stockbridge without Mary?
Watching Mary Flynn die was an unremitting pain eased only by the number of people watching with me.
Years ago, I walked down a hospital corridor to visit my sick sister. In room after room elderly people lay in half-light waiting to die; lay alone waiting to die; lay still and silent while the only movement or sound in their rooms was a TV image. As Mary lay dying there were friends and flowers, gifts, cards, the constant slamming of screen door and ringing of telephone as friends checked in.
"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Spinster, teetotaler, Catholic, teacher, proselytizer and politician: if there ever was a woman who was greater than the sum of her parts, it was Mary Veronica Flynn. Neither the single descriptor, nor the total description was why she was so loved. Mary was funny. She could tell you "which trees make shingles" without making you mad. She could explain that she could not vote for you while simultaneously making you believe that she wished you well and valued you as a person. She was a shameless flatterer, yet no one dismissed her compliments. Everyone walked a little taller around Mary because they felt better about themselves. She called it her empathy, her ability to compliment you for, to see in you, that thing you wished in your heart of hearts was true.
Contrary to what some thought, Mary did take advice from others. Two pieces resonated for her all her life. Her mother taught her: give a good dog a bone and a bad dog two bones. An elementary school teacher she admired told her: don't bother being friends with the popular kids, they won't value it; embrace the lonely, and they will be grateful for life. The second was easy to understand and to watch her do; it took all 30 years of our friendship before I understood the first.
We all hide our foibles and our failures. A lawyer recently told me we are a country of liars and deniers; perhaps, but not Mary. She told you everything -- the rough and the smooth. Her life actually was an open book. It made interesting conversation, a chance to laugh or cry with her. It encouraged many to help her, to solve her problem, to be engaged in whatever she was engaged in. The greater truth was that it made Mary Flynn the consummate politician. She controlled the story; she got it out first with her spin, and brought others along on her journey.
She said my grandson was a politician, because he, like Mary, remembered everyone's name and at least one fact about each. Like all politicians, she loved to fight or would she call it argue or debate? Whatever you call it, she loved it, and it was never personal -- never. Finally like a good politician, she thanked everyone for every favor, compliment, gift, kindness, and helping hand. She meant it; she never forgot, not even years later, she methodically repaid every kindness, and one way she did that, was to thank you publicly. Mary was simply the greatest politician in a time when that word was not a pejorative.
The last time we spoke and I knew she could hear me, I told her about my son's engagement. He was a special love of hers, and like all good spinsters, she wanted him married. She fantasized about finding a girl and fixing him up. She was in some pain, weak, and facing her own mortality, but when she heard about the engagement, her whole face lit up and she said, "Things are falling into place."
Yes, Mary, you are old and sick and leaving us, but you are deeply and genuinely happy because my son found love. That was why Mary was so loved: "in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
The last words she said to me were "maybe later as the afternoon wears on." I had asked her if I could get her anything and her answer was maybe later, but there will be no later.
"Bye Mary I love you." How many times did I say that in 30 years? I don't know, but this time, the last time, I will not hear her say, "Goodbye my girl, I love you too."
Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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