My cousin, Linda, messaged the news of her mother's death on Monday, not long after it occurred. But I wanted to find this photograph before saying much about that sweet lady, the last of her generation in my immediate family.
That man in the photo with Aunt Marie is her husband and my uncle, Richard Miller, my mother's "baby" brother. Until he died during 1999, Marie and Richard had shared more than 50 years, marrying during 1943 at the height of World War II. It was unnecessary to rent a tux for the occasion --- he already had his U.S. Army Air Corps uniform.
Although each was entirely capable of independent life and thought, I think that they would have said that in some way they completed each other. It was a wonderful relationship to observe, but also a challenge to think of one without the other.
Marie's death was not a surprise, nor was it the result of any medical crisis. At 96, it was a matter of wearing out and letting go. She died where she had lived for several years, at the home of her eldest daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Dick McEvoy, at Victor, New York. A third daughter, Suzanne, and her husband, Bill Franklin, live in the greater Atlanta area. Linda and her husband, Randy Coss, live in Allen Park, Michigan. There are quite a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too.
There will be a memorial service in New York, then most likely later this fall, perhaps October, a graveside memorial at the Columbia Cemetery, not far over the north Lucas County line in Marion County, where Uncle Richard, his parents and other family members are buried.
Marie was born in Bonne Terre, Missouri, a small town southwest of St. Louis, but as an infant moved with her parents, Harry and Jewel Lindquist, and older sister, Faye, to Detroit, then a booming city filled with opportunity.
Harry died not long thereafter, during March of 1921 at the age of 30, and Marie still was a babe in arms when her mother brought his remains by train back to Bonne Terre for burial. Jewel returned to Detroit with her daughters and raised them as a single mother, settling eventually in Lincoln Park, one of the "downriver" villages that grew into major Detroit suburban cities. In 1925, Jewell and her two daughters were founding members of the Lincoln Park Church of Christ.
In the meantime, cousins of my maternal grandmother, Jessie (Brown) Miller --- Wilford and Katherine (McCorkle) Riley --- had settled in the nearby suburban village of Allen Park where he served as police chief.
Times were tough during the 1930s, when Uncle Richard graduated from Chariton High School. He spent some time helping out on the farm, then enrolled in the CCC program and worked on forestry projects, including Red Haw State Park and Stephens State Forest, while stationed at Camp Chariton. Then, the Rileys encouraged him to join them in Allen Park and find a job in the steel mills.
He did just that, met Marie and they decided to marry, which they did during 1943 while he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
After the war, they settled down in Allen Park, built a new brick home --- Allen Park is known, among other things, for its tree-lined streets filled with brick homes --- and raised their three daughters. Richard continued to work in the steel mills until his retirement.
What Marie may or may not have known when she married Uncle Richard was that he never quite got over being homesick for Lucas County and the farm where he grew up.
After my grandfather, William A. Miller, died during 1969, Marie and Richard bought the old Miller farmstead just west of Williamson Pond from his estate and within a couple of years set to work turning it into their "dream" home.
This was an incredibly complex project because Uncle Richard was unwilling to take the easy way out, bulldoze the big old farm house my grandparents had built and build anew. There also were two vast barns, also in need of restoration and repair.
They began the project, which included lifting the old house and digging a new basement under it and gutting and entirely reconfiguring the interior, on vacations. Uncle Richard wanted to do as much of the work as possible himself, which of course made Marie his associate.
After Richard retired, they began to spend about half the years in Lucas County --- arriving in the early spring in a caravan of pickup packed to the tipping point and car, then reversing their route to Detroit in the fall. In addition to working on the house, they gardened and gathered, canned and processed and socialized with family and friends.
Marie put up with a lot during those years. The house had no central heating (wood stoves kept them warm spring and late fall), although it was plumbed, there quite often were no walls other than sheets of plastic stretched over the studs. Occasionally, there were wildlife issues --- the need to evict generations of bats from the attic, for example.
Finally, the house was done, the Allen Park house sold and the Millers arrived in caravan, pickup and car followed this time by a huge moving van.
Happy years followed. New friendships were formed in the neighborhood and at the Knoxville Church of Christ and there were plenty of cousins as well as my parents nearby. The daughters and their families visited frequently --- the occasional in-law occasionally puzzled by southern Iowa. These were all city people, remember.
As Uncle Richard's health deteriorated, Marie took on more responsibilities, but I never heard her complain.
After his death during 1999, just a few weeks after my mother died, there was some speculation that this former city girl would never last out there in the country all by herself in that big old house.
The naysayers were wrong, but eventually age and health issues caught up with Aunt Marie, too, and the daughters convinced her it was time to sell the farm and resettle nearer one of them. She tried Detroit first, but that city had changed so much during the years she had been away that it didn't seem too much like home any more.
After a health scare, she relocated into a suite Karen and Dick had included when they built their new home in the woods at Victor, New York, with her in mind some years earlier. And that's where her final years were spent, under Karen's watchful eye.
It seems as if such a long and well-lived life should only be celebrated, but of course there's sorrow, too, especially for her daughters. It's no fun to find one's self an orphan, no matter what the age.
I don't believe that I ever heard Aunt Marie complain, although perhaps she did (I certainly would have had my beloved decided that he should spend the best of his retirement years rebuilding a rattletrap old house with me as principal assistant). Nor do I remember unkind words about anyone. She was a lady of the sort they're not turning out that often any more.
So far as I know, she was inflexible only in two areas. She always went to church on Sunday and she always went to the beauty shop on Thursday (it was Thursday, wasn't it?) to get her hair fixed.