Mary Beth Writes


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.

She chokes up as she croons to the baby. "Hi Ben. I'm your aunt. I will always love you, and I will protect you the best I can and, I promise I will always, um.... have gum."

An aunt is a funny role to play. Where there is so much love and so few duties there ends up being a world of humor, nuttiness, and healing. We celebrate mothers and fathers, secretaries (OK, administrative staffers), dead presidents, war heroes, labor unions, and Arbor Day. But do we ever, on purpose, honor the wonderful women who were and often still are the release valves of our lives?

Aunts are living proof that you don't have to do everything the way your mom and dad say. Your parents and grandparents can be such a universe of "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." They tell you must get A's in arithmetic, sit quietly through funeral services, keep your clothes clean and your shoes on. You can't go swimming right after you eat, you should drive carefully, date responsibly, and always floss before you go to bed.

And then through your front door comes, well, I better not say her name. But there she is, the woman who does not hang her clothes up after she wears them, who has a boyfriend or girlfriend who makes your mother shudder, who knows all the words to "Diarrhea." She smokes, gets speeding tickets, and likes you when you even when you get D's. Sometimes she likes you better when you get D's. Solidarity can be so affirming.

Or, if your family is chaotic your crazy aunt might be the one who is sane. She takes you shopping for clean underwear, introduces you to the amazing world of cooked vegetables, attends your school events because your parents can't or won't. She is an oasis of human decency and her presence in your life sustains you in powerful ways.

I have three aunts which means I learned early there were options in life.

One aunt could have run an army. She was kind and welcoming, she was also extremely attuned to where we all were, what we were doing, and if we were behaving. I loved to play at her house because there were a zillion things to do. I also always knew that at her house, no one would ever swear or eat a muffin without saying grace.

 Another aunt had on-going health issues so she did what she could with limited stamina. She fed everyone. She loved everyone. She made music. What she didn’t do was keep a tightly tidy house. Yet I realized as I grew up she was my life lesson in what hospitality looked and felt like. From “important” adults to six-toed cats. We were all welcome in her home and her life.

And then there was the aunt who (gasp, again) had friends who smoked cigarettes! She belonged to a country club! This lively aunt also knew the kinds of stories my parents would never have told me, i.e., back when my parents and grandparents were not quite so pious or polished. I treasure every one of her irreverent stories.

My aunts loosened my thinking while being examples of different ways one can live a good life.  

And then what happened? Some new people bloomed into my life. My niece and my nephews clued me into the fun it can be to BE the aunt. (After I wrote this, two more little nephews came along who are now amazing young men.) As they say, "Living well is the best revenge." Here’s a whole new opportunity to misguide a whole new generation.

The world measures lineage as if it was a straight ladder descending neatly from parent to child to grandchild. Perhaps the real truth of who we are is in our aunts (and uncles) who brought us light, love, and the chutzpah to explore unique paths.





Love this. Made me smile. I have some awesome Aunts, those present and those who have passed on. Many, many of happy memories. I am also an Aunt who loves her Nieces and Nephews fiercely! It’s all about family.

Most all of my Tias lived on the island except two.. One my mother's younger sister was also my godmother but she didn't move here until I was imn my twenties.. Tia Carmen the only one I grew up with was related by marriage, and was AMAZING.. She and Tio Juan were not well off, had 14 children , and worked at the Kraut Factory their whole lives until they retired. But these two people through the most amazing parties almost every weekend, raised 14 kids who totally love each other.. I come from a fractured family of seven children and we had it better off than they did.. Juan and Carmen to us were the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of our family they were amazing on the Dance Floor, and showed us you could have a great time I'm very little income.. When my mother found out I was gay she went crying to Carmen asking her where she went wrong and why I turned out the way I did? Carmen's answer according to my cousin was to tell my mother to shut up and love me for who I am and what I do not for who I sleep with.. That is amazing coming from a woman who had two sons who were in gangs and had their house terrorized because of it.. she still loved those two even though they put the family through hell and back.. They both eventually saw the light and made something of themselves and their lives.. Carmen came down with Alzheimer's and lived with the disease for quite some time.. when my kids sister would go and visit her one of the first questions out of Carmen's mouth was is Frank still gay, and when she got an answer yes she would giggle..The dear woman towards the end couldn't recognize most people in the family and yet she still remembered in some part of ber brain that I liked boys, she was my biggest supporter ;) R.I.P Tia and HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!! to You and all the Tias like You..
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Oh Franc this is a beautiful, wonderful, and really fun tribute to your aunt. Thanks for taking the time to remember her and write this. "Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of our family."

I wrote that on a rain break while doing yard clean-up.. Thank's for getting me to pull her out of my memory banks.. Camen worked hard, played hard, and drank hard.. She could put them down with the best of them.. She made friends of nieghbors, coworkers, and a few strays with no family, everyone was family to her.. Carmen found the good in everyone, yet always looked like she was pissed at the world (She wasn't).. No one walked in that house without being handed a big plate of food with the assurance that there was more in the kitchen if you were still hungry afterwards, I don't remember a time when there weren't huge pots of something or other simmering on her stove.. Dispite having a house full of hungry kids she managed to feed everyone who walked in her door.. Thanks for letting me remember these things, I hold those happy memories in my heart..

I didn't grow up with extended family around, so the aunt/tia roles were taken up by mothers of close friends. It's a a role they hold to this day. They nurtured, and loved me. One taught me to make bread, and pecan pie. Another would join in on water balloon fights and not get mad if the kitchen floor got WET! OH! the laughter we shared. When we would return to the US to visit, my beloved Aunt Thelma would be here. Such profound love and acceptance. I lived with her and her family my first year of college at Baylor University. I was very homesick, and she patiently encouraged me and provided a safe place for me to "BE.' We were both early risers, and would share a cup of coffee before going to separate rooms: me to study, she to journal, and read. We laughed so often, and heartily. She blessed my life. This is a delightful series. Thank you. Happy Mother's day. Patricia

Cuz, loved seeing this photo of my Aunt Dorothy. She was so dear to me when I was a child. And yes, gotta ya on your Aunt Maeola! She was a force of nature and well before her time. Love you, Cousin. Come home soon and meet me at beach.
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Even when we were all grown up, when she mentioned you she called you Susie. "Force of nature" is 100% correct for your mom ...

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This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


When History isn't in Museums

I stayed twice for several days with a Maya family in Guatemala’s altiplano. This adventure happened during my second day of my second stay with them.

Senor Jorge, the 50ish father of the family, asked if I would like to take a walk to see a Mayan antiquity. It took a minute to understand his question since my high school Spanish was a long time ago.

Yes, I would!

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