Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Seven sisters

My mother posted this to her Facebook page today in honor of her sister Carmelita, the tall thin lady on the right-hand side of the photo above. Sister Aunt Carmie, to me and my siblings, died this past Saturday. I'm not exactly sure of what she died, but she had been in decline for the past five years due to Alzheimers' and was in her 80s.

My aunt Carmelita, instead of the life of tempestuous passion her name seems to promise, became a nun as soon as she hit eighteen, and remained one the rest of her life. Her nom de nun was Sister Marie Martin - after the first names of each of her parents.

That's their father Martin, smoking a cigarette. Like my father, he died of lung cancer, although he died much younger than my father - only about ten years after this photo was taken.

The photo is from the mid-1940s, during my grandfather's prosperous years when he was hobnobbing with Jimmie Hoffa (true story) and making great money as a leader of a Philadelphia Teamsters local.

Martin Maguire and family used to spend summers in Beach Haven, New Jersey, which is where this photo was taken. They're all dressed up here, probably on the way to church. My grandmother loved to go to church, and for Catholics, it's a big sin to miss Sunday Mass. Of course parishioners also hand over their weekly "offering" to support the Church at Sunday Mass. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that you avoid Mass and its attendant fleecing at the risk of being tormented for all eternity.

Only three people in this photo are still alive. The baby in my grandfather's arms, Muriel, died a year ago of cancer; the girl on the left, my Aunt Ginnie, died in the mid-1980s of cancer. Her face wasn't   deformed - the original photo had a jagged white tear right through her face and I did what I could with Photoshop; Aunt Joan, second from the right, also died of cancer in the mid-1980s, a couple of years after Aunt Ginnie.

That leaves my Aunt Margaret, the oldest, who is a couple of years older than Aunt Carmie - she's the second from the left, barely visible behind the baby; and the two little girls in the front, my aunt Marianna is on the left and my mother Claire is on the right, squinting slightly without her glasses, which she began wearing at the age of four.

I feel bad that I don't feel worse about my aunt Carmie's death. In my defense, I never knew her well, although I spent a week at her convent in Delaware, along with my cousins Margaret and Tina, who are close to my age. My aunt was trying to convince at least one of us to become a bride of Christ, but we all went onto heterosexual sex and reproduction, and in my case raging atheism to boot.  And during the time we were there, I didn't get the feeling that Sister Aunt Carmie was exactly interested in us as people, but rather as Christ-bride fodder. She wasn't unpleasant though, not at all. I previously blogged about how excited I was to get access to her nice stereo system and Broadway show albums, where I discovered Jews via Fiddler on the Roof.

And to say that our personalities were incompatible is an understatement - not only was Aunt Carmie all about lifelong celibacy and religious devotion, she was a prissy neat freak. I always thought this was completely incompatible with her usual job, which was teaching art. The only artwork I recall seeing by her was some quasi-expressionist monstrosity in muddy colors, which my father disparaged as "modern art." As I've mentioned on this blog before, my parents were proud, practicing Philistines. But my aunt the nun, in common with her mother and with my mother, was extremely uptight about sex and nudity, and that can't possibly be conducive to developing an expressive, artistic personality.

I once pointed out to my mother that the Sistine Chapel is covered in naked bodies, but she didn't want to hear it. Then again, she has never had a high opinion of Italian Catholics on the grounds that they are much too relaxed about attending Sunday Mass every week - "they just go Christmas and Easter" has always been her complaint.  From her perspective such sang froid places them on the very edge of Hell.

I feel bad most of all for Sister Maureen, who was my Aunt's best friend, almost her partner.  Not that I think they necessarily had a lesbian relationship - at least not a physical one. But I've seen few marriages that were as close as their friendship. I hope Sister Maureen has friends she can turn to now.