The Eldest

In order to know yourself, you need to understand where and even who you came from, and in my life, that’s a lot. These larger than life icons informed most everything that defines me, from their striking curiosity about life to their endless devotion to family. Through my mother’s eyes I learned nothing but admiration for her two older sisters. The eldest possessing a brilliant mind that saw no limits, making the cliche of a life-long learner her mantra. The middle sister organized like no other, from the Director of Early Education for the New York City Board of Education to most every niece or nephews’ birthday party: doing both jobs with equal furor. My mother, the youngest, brought the big laugh and warm embrace, turning acquaintances into best friends with ease. But the sisters were entwined in such a way that they shared their strengths, their capabilities, and even their truths. If I didn’t know that when I was a child observing them as distinctive entities, I learned it when first my mother passed, and then another sister, until the oldest was the last one to call me Moira love. She made sure to love me with every bit of her sisters’ traits, and watch over me until her final days. At nearly 98 when she passed on March 1st, her care for my heart and soul was more of a gift than I could ever repay, keeping all her sisters alive within me: all their separation dissolved.

There are fabulous tales that get passed around when you are part of any family, especially one as peopled as mine. From my birth those three sisters and their five younger brothers were engraved into my every step. We children heard of their escapades, their triumphs and pains. Mostly we listened with envy as they waxed on detailing their constant summer-time-family-antics with even more cousins than we had, and that is saying something.

The sisters talked daily. Shared a bedroom until they went off as married young women. They told each other everything, which included every step I or any that their children took too. That is another facet of family life: one has few secrets from an Aunt. If your mother knows, rest assured, your sister Aunt does too. I was not always a fan of such telephone games, but thankfully my Aunts wove my missteps into the whole of me. They understood pitfalls, all falls actually. Another gift of a large extended family: you are rarely the first to stumble.

Patrice Ann McAllister Guiney devoted her married life to extended family, her loving husband, her six daughters, her church and community, and all the grandchildren and great grandchildren. Such inspiration to produce this network of giving and service.

But I love to recall my Aunt Pat traveling with my mother. Once widowed, both in their late 70’s and then 80’s, they embarked on across-the-globe adventures. To Egypt, around Europe, from London to Scotland, across the U.S. to see the National Parks, even to Alaska, by boat or bus or plane. Each trip navigated first through study, through learning the history, and of course meaningful interactions via every step. Nothing slowed these two, fast walking into the unknown together. Their adventures have forever forged my fantasy about the future I want.

Of course, they loved nothing more than being together with as many of us as possible. Summer meant Belle Terre; those sandy roads all leading from beach to a relative’s house and back to that rocky shore, are firmly etched in my being. This same setup recreated decades later in the Poconos, with three sisters on a beach surrounded by grand babies, tied up in all of our challenges and celebrations. My Aunt Pat sat in the midst, often with book on hand, if quiet ever showed itself, but just as readily wanting to hear everything about my life, my spouse or my children. She was the first person I called when I learned I was to become a grandmother. Again when the sweet little guy was born. She embraced my wife with the whole of her love, not in defiance of her faith, but because of it.

At her funeral I stood in awe of all she and her husband created. Yes, so many people. Starting with six daughters… and now great grandchildren… a whole lot. People who love with huge hearts, working in big and small ways to improve this world. Their accomplishments are staggering but their generosity is monumental. This is not by accident either. They trail from the same place and people I do. I see my values in their actions. We, like our mother-sisters are one: our visions are united. We are here to continue the legacy set out by those who came before us.

Moira love will forever echo in my mind, as the moniker first spoken by my maternal grandmother, and then by my mother, and during these last years solely by my Aunt Pat. What a treasure to have spent a lifetime in her embrace. What a birthright to continue, as we move forward, learning and loving, holding as many of us as possible together, asking for little, but giving so much more. This is the story of these sisters, who we hold dear.


12 thoughts on “The Eldest

  1. Thank you, dear Cousin, for your beautiful tribute. Mima loved her entire extended family deeply – (so many of us!) – and would want you know in your heart that she is still interceding for your family, and all of us. Thank you for the sweet cards and Valentines chocolate you sent to her. She loved them, as they reminded her of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Today was the first day I could really read this, Moira. Thank you! What a beautifully written tribute to our family – especially our Moms and Aunt Marj. Their unconditional love and deep influence made us who we are. We are so blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

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