Extraordinary Women

Early days on Peddocks Island with mom, me, and baby sister

Robin and aunt Jo

An Extraordinary Woman was written in honor of my Aunt, Jo. It is with loving thoughts that I share both Jo and her sister, my mom, Ellen, who we lost 50 years ago, August 20, 1973. I was blessed to have you both.

An Extraordinary Woman
By Robin MacDonald-Foley

I’m fortunate to have had an aunt that was a mom, friend, and sister all rolled into one. Aunt Josephine, “Jo,” lived just across the way from our home. As kids we used to quarrel over who would cross the marshland to her house when there was a need. We got good at jumping the creeks since it was the quickest way over, knowing all along we got to pick our favorite candy from the candy jar when we arrived. On occasion, you even got a quarter in your pocket when you left. As a family we were close. After the tragic death of my mom, Ellen, Jo understood the needs of our young family and supported us in any way she could. She grieved for her sister but remained strong for us. At some point my dad, now three thousand miles away in California, sent for the youngest siblings to live out west while my older sister and I stayed east. I planned to go to art school in Boston and make it on my own.

Countless addresses and roommates later, my loneliness from living without siblings was eased by having a mentor to guide me toward college and an aunt to watch over me. Jo taught me to navigate life “one day at a time.” Words to live by according to Jo, each a valuable lesson.

Herself a mom, prolific oil painter and budding amateur archeologist, she still had time for flea markets, rock and shell collecting, crafts of all kinds, and never-ending road adventures. She was full of surprise, warmth, and laughter. For her eightieth birthday, Jo was gifted a tall, adjustable ladder so she could climb up on the roof of her home and patch things as needed. I remember she even helped build an addition on their summer cottage. Looking back, there was nothing that she could not do. A woman of many talents, her projects always turned out to be something extraordinary when she was behind the tools.

When Jo’s own family became full of grandchildren, she was still there for everyone. Our visits became ever so precious, especially after my uncle Elmer, her husband, passed. My aunt and uncle were married for 66 years. They were both funny and good listeners. I’ve fond memories pulling up to their house, a beep of the car horn, then Jo appearing at the front door to greet me. Soon lunch would be prepared. When the teapot was boiling and our finger sandwiches made, Jo directed me to the living room couch where the tray of food and tea cups would be set down and neatly arranged. The coffee table was a conversation piece in itself—glass topped and inlaid with artifacts from their many world travels. Between bites I would stare at the treasures beneath my plate dreaming of all the amazing places. I got to know each object and its origin.

As her physical body aged, Jo eventually adjusted to life in a retirement home. She still had a green thumb and loved collecting. I recall her former rose garden, the magnificent scent of each variety wafting through the yard. She and my mom both loved flowers. I always took a bouquet each visit. During the nice weather I’d roll her around the retirement grounds by wheelchair, asking: “where shall we go today?”

Sometimes it was our beloved island, other times to far away places. She would tell me more about our ancestors. We lived through stories. Stopping by the community garden before heading indoors, she’d pick a flower, or piece of berry bush—something to take back to her room in remembrance of the day. Aunt Jo was with me over 40 years, living to be 96. I wanted her to live forever—bright, beautiful, creative and caring. A woman of incredible strength.

An Extraordinary Woman
~ Published in Volume 7, Gifts: Essays, Stories, Reflections. Mission Hill Women’s Writing Group. Fall 2022-Winter 2023 Workshop. Coached by Sandra Storey.

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