A few years ago, I started to snail-mail a list of questions to my Aunt Anna and she would write down the responses on the pages and mail them back to me. She was my father’s youngest sister and last survivor from a family of ten—five boys and five girls.

I entered some of her answers on my computer and filed away other replies that I haven’t looked at since. Her answers were clipped.

Here’s an example:

Question: You once said the depression was hard on the family. What do you remember about it? How old were you?

Answer: “I was seven years old. I remember wearing cardboard in my shoes (to cover the holes). No hat or gloves in the cold weather. Eating homemade bread and bananas for lunch. Never had money to buy anything until the older ones found work and gave us some (money).

A beautiful doll was given to Aunt Pam (older sister) and me one Christmas. We had to share it. The doll’s face had to be washed with butter, which wasn’t too often. In our socks we got nuts and fruit if we were good. That’s what Santa was giving out in my day. The bad kids got coal in their socks.”

My Aunt Anna taught me you didn’t need to be rich, have advanced degrees or accumulate material possessions to be content. She lived simply, loved her family, especially her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and relished Italian food. She had an irreverent sense of humor, feisty disposition and spoke her mind.

My earliest memory of her outspokenness was something I had overheard as a child. She and her sisters were talking at the kitchen table in Grandma’s house. Aunt Anna had been reprimanded by a Catholic priest during confession when she said she had chosen not to have any more children. She had two sons. When the priest chided her that it was her duty as a Catholic to bear as many children as God sent to her, she told him that he could support them. At that time, I never knew anyone who had talked back to a priest. She continued to question authority throughout her life. I can credit/blame her for my own antiestablishment tendencies.

We spoke on the phone frequently. While she had multiple health problems, she didn’t give in to self-pity but seemed to relish entertaining me with cheeky complaints toward hospital and medical personnel who mistakenly dismissed her as an older, silent, compliant patient.

The last time I visited, four years ago, I taped some of her stories. I can’t remember what she spoke about or where I put the tape. Soon after that I stopped documenting her life. I suppose I thought she would live forever.

She died on Saturday, June 8th three months after her 91st birthday.  I will miss her.

Aunt Anna on left and her husband Tommy on right standing up for her younger brother, Uncle Tommy, and his wife Hedy. Cousin Patricia is flower girl
Aunt Anna, matron of honor, on left and her husband, Tommy, best man, on right. My youngest uncle, Tommy, is the groom. Heidi is his wife.Cousin Patricia is flower girl, age 5.

By Marianna Crane

After a long career in nursing--I was one of the first certified gerontological nurse practitioners--I am now a writer. My writings center around patients I have had over the years that continue to haunt my memory unless I record their stories. In addition, I write about growing older, confronting ageism, creativity and food. My memoir, "Stories from the Tenth Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers" is available where ever books are sold.


  1. Great story and photo. I’m sending email questions to 23 family members to compile for all of us. But I do have one of those lost tapes of my great aunt around here somewhere!


  2. Dear Marianna, I am so very sorry for your loss. I have a dear aunt Mary who will be 94 next week, and I cherish all my visits with her. She is a wonderful historian and I love hearing her stories of our family.We can learn so much if we really listen. I’m sure your Dear Aunt will be watching over you, and you will always savor the wonderful memories you have of her.


  3. My almost-99-year-old aunt died recently, the last of five sisters in my mom’s family, and I ache that I didn’t record some of her stories. I heard them though, and I treasure them and her, and like you, I plan to keep writing them down for her, for me and for my children and grandchildren. I’m so glad you have your Aunt Anna’s stories and that you recognize the traits of hers that you share. Wonderful connections.


  4. Love this memory. And just a good reminder to get those stories in time. Now you have anothe project–to compile all your bits and pieces in honor of your aunt so she can live on forever on paper. So good you kept in touch all these years.


  5. I had to chuckle when I read your comment about Aunt Anna talking back to a Catholic priest. She seemed like such an amazing self determined woman. Thank you for sharing her life story.


  6. Marianna, I’m so sorry to hear about your Aunt’s passing. But…what a wonderful memories you have of her. A number of years ago, I taped and recorded stories from my Mom and her eldest sister, Sr. Rosalie. It is wonderful to listen to those tape recordings occasionally…it’s like being there again, in my Mom’s kitchen as we talked and recorded. I do hope to write down those family stories one day…in book format. I hope you find your recording of your Aunt.


  7. Hi Marianna~This story confirmed that I need to refocus my writing on the life (or what is left of it) of my sister. Only 66, but just recently having spiraled into another ‘stage’ of frontotemporal dementia, the stories that I’ve tucked away during these nearly seven years since her diagnosis continue to resurface. I told one to our seven year old daughter several days ago; it was one of those ‘hard in the moment’ stories that we can now laugh about. Hope said tonight at bedtime that it was one of her favorite Aunt V.B. stories. I wish I had time to visit Weymouth and write, write, write! Thank you for sharing your Aunt Anna with us.


    1. Sorry to hear about your sister but it seems you are trying to keep up with her stories. The hardest thing is to acknowledge our loves ones have limited time with us. I wonder if I stopped documenting Aunt Anna’s stories as a way to think she would be around forever?


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