I got a voicemail from my brother Sunday afternoon, and I could tell right away something was wrong. When I called him back he gave me the bad news: our Aunt Marcia had died. She went suddenly, in her sleep. I saw her just a few weeks ago at a family reunion, healthy and happy. She was 72 -- she was born in 1940, her daughter in 1960, I in 1970, a cousin of ours in 1980, and her first grandson in 1990. Numbers guy that I am, I always thought that was kind of neat.
Family is a random deal, and I always figured I got a pretty good hand. When I was a kid, I lived within walking distance of both sets of grandparents, and my father had a brother and sister who both lived in Baltimore and who I would see at least a couple times a year. For many years the family holiday party was held at Marcia's house, and so I got something of a look into her life.
I don't know if she would use the word to describe herself, but to me she was a feminist in the best sense of the word, a divorced working mom in the 1970s (when that was still a rarity) who had on her living-room wall one of those posters saying "A Woman's Place Is In The House -- And Senate" and who, if I remember correctly, was a strong advocate of the ERA.
While she had affection for and got along well with her ex-husband, and had friends and relationships, she never did marry again, an example that a woman (or a man) does not need a spouse in order to live a full, rich, and satisfied life. (No offense to our married friends and relatives!) A little internet searching turned up a 1997 Baltimore Sun story about a single's night at Fresh Fields -- the grocer now called Whole Foods -- that quoted Aunt Marcia and described her as a member of "Singles Enjoying the Arts".
She was an intellectual, and though she didn't go to college until later in life -- still beating me to the Bachelor's and Master's degrees -- I can remember the bookshelf along her dining-room wall, serious works about psychology and sociology. For forty years, she worked as a lab researcher at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, no place for dummies. At least one Ph.D. student gave her a shout-out in a dissertation.
Marcia loved life with a passion, but she was accepting of its end. Years ago she was in a serous car accident: she fell asleep behind the wheel and woke up as she went off the road, just before a head-on collision with a tree. (I think -- maybe a telephone pole.) I talked with her about that crash a few months later. She told me that when she woke up to see an immanent collision and a fair chance of dying, rather than panicking she found that her response was more, "Oh, is it time to go? Okay."
I was privileged to know her, even more privileged to call her family, and I will miss her.