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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Memento mori.

In my extended family, news of deaths spread unto the most distant relatives within hours. Even in the age of The One Phone Company and high long-distance rates, that was a call that got made. I was forty years old before the late or middle-of-the-night calls stopped, and it was a relief. They were always bad news.

Now the word travels a more leisurely path. Sometimes I hear within the week; others, on the month. Some slip past entirely.

Soon, however, the news will stop coming. My parents were from big families: eight on one side, seven on the other. I grew up with twenty-four aunts and uncles; six are left. I crossed another one off the list just four months ago.

Today, a sibling sent me a two-sentence instant message about the recent death of one of my aunts.

Here are the plain facts of her life, from The Sweetwater Reporter:
Mary Etta Wade was born on January 19, 1928 in Dublin, Texas. She went to be with her Lord on July 5, 2016 at the age of 88 years, 5 months and 16 days. 
She was the daughter of Cicero Taylor Thompson, Sr. and Charles Etta (Dunlap) Thompson. 
She was united in marriage to Billy Lee Wade on April 21, 1954 in Baird, Texas and to this union one son was born. Her husband preceded her in death in September of 2004. 
Mary is survived by her son, Gary Wade of Dublin, Texas; her grandsons and wives, Robert & Jessica Wade of Shawnee, Oklahoma and Chris & Rebekah Wade of Granbury, Texas; her granddaughter and husband, Kendra & Kyle Raab of Ft. Worth, Texas; her daughter-in-law, Roxane Wade of Ft. Worth, Texas; her sister and husband, Sue Thompson & Bill Brown of Ft. Worth, Texas; her brother and wife, Alan & Ann Thompson of Dublin, Texas; and her great-granddaughter, Bella Wade of Joshua, Texas. and a host of other relatives and many friends who will miss her dearly. 
Mary was an accountant and member of the First Baptist Church in Dublin. 
Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 10, 2016, at Harrell Memorial Chapel. Interment will be at Hanson Cemetery.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday at the funeral home. 
My Texas relatives were notional family, existing mostly in imagination, augmented by rare visits. We went to Texas three times before I went to college; the Wades came to North Carolina a few times on vacations. Mostly I'd hear about them from my parents; sometimes we'd get to say a few words at the end of their phone calls.

Aunt Mary was a redhead- funny and outspoken, relentlessly optimistic and devoted to her family. She and my dad- born 23 months apart- were especially close. One my sisters is named for her.

The family visits to Texas are imprinted in memory. They always meant a week with the Wades in Irving, the Dallas suburb. I learned to ride a bike in their driveway in the summer of 1963. In 1969, she took us to Dealey Plaza and lent me her copy of the Warren Commission Report. She was always one to face up to things, the bad alongside the good. She gave me a novel her mother had always loved, Alice Wallworth Graham's 1954 tale of saving the plantation during Reconstruction, Indigo Bend. It was something tangible, as my grandmother died in 1958 and my only contact with her had been in infancy, the grandson who shared her husband's middle name.

In a family of dozens of cousins, birthday cards from other than my parents were rare, but there was always one from Aunt Mary. We traded notes and cards until the annus horribilis of 1996, when I came out and she went silent.

By then Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill, a classic Texan with a voice to rival Sam Elliott's, had retired to the country. She and several siblings resettled in Dublin, where they were born; another uncle bought and restore the family homeplace (even after I came out, one of my other aunts decided I should be kept in the loop somehow; I still get the annual notice of the meeting of the family cemetery association).

Mary and Bill had fifty good years, a son, and an expanding fold of grandchildren and granddaughters-in-law. She defied the family curse- heart attacks claimed three of her siblings, including my dad- at early ages, and was en route to her 89th birthday when she died last week.

She was born while Calvin Coolidge was president, and saw fourteen men follow him in the office. Home telephones were still rare; movies had just begun to talk; Colonel Lindbergh was on his nationwide tour after flying the Atlantic alone. Prohibition was in force; radio its infancy. Ahead lay the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Sixties, and the age of the internet. She weathered them all, and has reached port, home and dry.

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