With Easter approaching, I was reminiscing with some friends about celebrating the holiday as kids. We talked about searching for Easter baskets, trying on new spring outfits and eating ham — you know, the spiritual stuff. However, I was reminded of my most memorable Easter, the one that gives the holiday great personal meaning.
The story centers on an Easter with my unforgettable Aunt Marg. She was like a flapper, who acted like it was still the Roaring ’20s. She wore a fur coat and always had a drink and a cigarette in her hand. Marg partied well into her 80s and we had many adventures together. After she retired as a cashier for the CTA, she used her lifetime pass to take me on late-night bus rides through the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
Nothing fazed Marg and she knew just how to treat a little boy. We’d go downtown to see movies and dine at Berghoff’s. She’d buy me the best toys and leave me alone to play with them. Though she was my poorest aunt, she was the most generous at Christmas and on birthdays. She preferred boys because we were less-complicated than girls and finished our plates.
She was that rare older woman who was knowledgeable and passionate about football. Notre Dame games were a must-see. She had loads of friends and would talk about all the fun they used to have singing around the piano. She lived with my Aunt Mary and they went on some great trips together. Marg was briefly married and rarely mentioned it.
She was a fixture at family parties though she always overdid it. Sometimes she’d drink so much, we’d have to put her to bed. Once she escaped our house, wearing only her slip. She was loud and funny, though her outrageous opinions could empty a room. Every holiday, we’d pick up Marg as she never owned a car.
When I was about 12, we called Marg before Easter but didn’t get an answer. She was living in an apartment at the Mayslake retirement community in Oak Brook. I used to ride my bike out there and she’d take me to lunch at Stouffer’s. When we didn’t get an answer, my dad and I drove out there. We found Marg lying on a sofa, barely breathing.
We used a wheelchair to get her to the car and I sat in the back seat with my arm around Marg to keep her upright. I was holding her close, when she stopped breathing. My dad drove to the emergency room. He disappeared in back with her. When he emerged a few minutes later, he had a big smile on his face. “Marg’s in heaven,” he announced, “and she cheated the undertaker — she donated her body to science.”
I don’t remember what we told the family when we returned Marg-less but I recall everyone took the news calmly. Now I look back and see that we handled it well. Had my father notified staff or called an ambulance, Marg might have died hooked up to machines in an ICU rather than in the arms of a nephew who loved her.
So if Easter is really about death and resurrection, rather than plastic eggs, I cherish my memory of Marg. Even now, I can picture her hoisting a highball in heaven.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.