Aunt Marie

I received sad news today, on the passing of my Aunt Marie, Mary Segatore.

She was not a blood relative, but she was my friend. She was a friend of the family going back to the late 1940s in Montreal. She was a friend of my mother’s oldest sister, Georgette, and helped celebrate my parent’s wedding in 1954. They took some wedding photos on her rooftop.

She was the youngest of many children, her parents having come from Italy, lived in Montreal, and ran Segatore’s Pizza on Marquette Street. When she was seven years old her father died. At some point she developed polio, and a bar, a metal brace, was put in her leg. Her leg remained stiff, and she was unable to bend her knee, and had to walk with a cane. Her leg with the brace was shorter than the other one, so she had to wear special shoes with one sole thicker than the other.  She went completely blind too, and after so many years was operated on by the famous Canadian brain surgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, who was able to restore her sight. If I recall correctly from what she told me, it was experimental surgery. It worked, and her sight was restored, tough she remained legally blind. She loved to read, and read through most of her life.

When Marie was in her early 40s, her mother died. As Marie had lived alone with her on Chabot Street in Montreal, her siblings worried about what to do with her.  They said she could not live alone, that she had to go live with one of them, but she refused. She stayed living in the same place, alone and determined, until about 2003. She did her own cleaning, cooking, washing. She was incredibly independent and a true inspiration for handicapped people, as her apartment had an outside staircase, as she got on in years, with the Montreal winters, she would stay in her apartment all winter long, usually from November until May. She loved to listen to her radio, usually a Montreal Expos or Montreal Canadiens game, as she was a great sports fan.

I learned from her what a washboard was. She did her laundry by hand, using a washboard, until the mid 1980’s.  Maybe the only person in a major Canadian city to still use a washboard for so long. She was so happy to finally get a clothes washer. 

When I was six years old she came for an extended visit to North Bay where we were living, to help my mother who had been ill in the hospital.  I remember one Sunday my father took my brother, sister, and I out to Dairy Queen, and Aunt Marie stayed to look after my mother. When we got back and went in the house, the house was empty. They were gone! We looked all through the house, and no sign. We got concerned my mother had had a relapse and been rushed back to the hospital. This was in the days before cellphones and instant communications.  Eventually we found them. The back door neighbours had invited them over, so both my mother, who should have stayed in bed, and my Aunt Marie, had walked through the yard, climbed over the back fence, and were very happily at the neighbour’s house. It must have been quite a site to see.

During that visit Aunt Marie noticed, when I read aloud, that I was a very poor reader. She asked me if I wanted to do a surprise for my father, as Father’s Day was coming up, that I could read a book to him. I agreed and got one of my children’s books, and with her guidance and teaching, practiced and practiced. On Father’s Day I read the book to my father. I have been a reader ever since, and have always been eternally grateful to her for teaching me how to read. Now, whenever I tell my children about her, I always tell them that she taught me how to read, and emphasize how important reading is. Indeed, the last time I saw her, and introduced my daughter Evelynn to her, I reminded Aunt Marie that she had taught me how to read, and I thanked her again.

By coincidence, I set up a personal Twitter account today, before I found out about her passing, and in my profile, I put the word ‘reader’ – that is how important reading is to me.

Another time when she visited us, we had a hammock, the kind suspended in a metal frame. Aunt Marie wanted to try it, but was very unsure.  My father said to go ahead, try it, it will be safe.  She was nervous, but tried it out. She sat on it, and as she lay down the hammock part flipped around, with her in it, so she went a horizontal 180 degrees, and was dumped on the ground and burst out laughing. 

As a child whenever we went to Montreal we would visit her, and I have fond memories of big gatherings in her apartment of real Italian pasta.

I went to Montreal in 1983 for a visit. Before, my mother suggested I go see her. I called and arranged a visit. Walking to her apartment I was so nervous. I had not seen her in five years; I was no longer a kid. Would se remember me? Would we have anything to talk about? Would it be awkward? I was so nervous but as I walked up, there she was, standing on her balcony, enjoying the sun and waiting for me. I had such a great time, we talked all afternoon and really got along.

Three years later I moved to Montreal to go to school, and would frequently visit her, usually on a Friday. Either she would cook, or we’d have take-out. I always had a great time visiting her, lots of laughing, lots of stories, good discussions. She was one of the best conversationalists I knew. Sometimes she’d give me the key to her liquor cabinet and we’d have a drink or two.  She never drank alone, only very rarely with company, and I felt like one of the privileged few to have drink with her.

After I moved back to BC I stayed in touch with her, phoning her, and visiting her on each of my three visits to Montreal, when I introduced her to all but the youngest of my children.  My last time speaking with her was her birthday, October 3rd.

Comments
  • Nellie O'Hara:

    Very nicely written, yes, she was a wonderful person, she will be sadly missed.

  • Laura:

    That was really lovely, Shawn. We have many similar memories of Aunt Marie. She really was so easy to talk to and it was great to visit her, talking and making spaghetti with the steam rising in the kitchen, or having a glass of wine.
    My clearest memory of her is of those times that she would sit out in the sun, her leg on a chair in front of her, glasses off, sleeves rolled up as high as they could go. She would turn her face to the sky and close her eyes and you could always see such contentment on her face as she basked in the warmth of the sun.
    She so loved a good joke, a glass of wine, a good book, and the company of people that she cared about.
    For all that Aunt Marie went through in her life I honestly don’t ever remember a single complaint from her that centred around her situation.
    I wonder now why I let worry that she wouldn’t remember me stop me from going to see her the last time I was in Montreal. My loss! Stupid wasn’t it!?!