A Nephew’s Reflection: Remembering Aunt Mary

Now abide in faith, hope and love; these three. But the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 13: 13

Last December 14 was a special day of mixed sadness and joy for me; sadness because my beloved Aunt Mary Farris passed away at the age of 103; joy because i know that Aunt Mary rejoined her father Frank, mother Leona and Mary’s older sisters, Ruth, Ester and [my mother] Naomi. I am sure they now gaze on the face of God.

Aunt Mary was born on October 21, 1909. Mary’s father had died in a horse and buggy collision with a car, and the mere survival for the family of a widowed mother of four young girls became a challenge.

That period became quickly more desperate when a man pounded on their door to inform them that they must vacate their home because the title was “clouded.”

This was two years after the 19th Amendment [Women’s Suffrage] was ratified. Unfortunately, a woman’s right to representation in court had not yet filtered down through the state court system. The new widow with four young children now had no place to turn, nowhere to go.

The First Methodist Church quickly stepped in and offered sanctuary. First the church provided a temporary shelter. Then the minister gathered the flock around the Farris girls to show them the Lord’s abundant love. The parishioners established to the girls that they were special and each unique in the eyes of God while freely dispensing love, warmth, understanding and kindness.

Then the parishioners moved on to the task of finding employment for Mary’s mom. This at first sounded easy because Leona was “educated as a frontier” school teacher in Eastern Washington before coming to Seattle. Yet her credentials were not accepted by the local schools. Finally a position was found as “clean-up lady” in the now sealed, underground rest room at First and Yesler.

The Farris girls were largely oblivious to those tough times because the church kept them busy with social functions and teaching social values while their mother walked them through this wilderness. Mary, however always recalled how much fun it was to slip and slide on the frosty planks of the board walk on 5th Avenue.

As time passed, Ruth accepted work in the Church office. She knew every one. Ruth later brought Mary into the office to teach her essential secretary skills, and after a while, Ruth accepted a new position as manager for the Bracken Pharmacy in the Cobb Building, across the street from the Olympic Hotel.

The Cobb Building was filled with young doctors. Often, Mary would visit. Mr. Bracken noticed that when that good-looking, single sister of Ruth visited, doctors came down to the pharmacy to pick up their drugs. Business picked up. Mr. Bracken decided to hire Mary as well.

Over the years and numerous vacations together, Mary and Ruth travelled to 38 countries.

As a hobby, Mary became a pupil of Mr. Scalla, the famous photographer. Mary’s pictures of their trips were amazing.  Mary thought nothing of setting up her tripod in front of an opium den in Hong Kong or capturing marching soldiers at a military parade in Moscow. Mary was confident she could do anything because she knew she was unique in the eyes of God; she was loved.

A relationship flowered between Mary and a young doctor. But Mary’s mother Leona soon after had a stroke, leaving her paralyzed. With no insurance, Mary and Ruth decided to continue working while trading off care for their mother. Mary wanted to help walk her mother through this new wilderness. Mary put her pending marriage on hold, but Mary’s intended could not wait. He married another. Mary’s heart broke.

After their mother died, Mary and Ruth dedicated all their energies between the Bracken Pharmacy and the Church. The Church became her tradition and her love.

Neither Ruth nor Mary ever married. Mary maintained her belief that her membership in the church was the highest most elegant aspiration anyone could hope for.

For years I believed that Aunt Mary had the most brilliant mind I ever encountered. I know she enjoyed adding the numbers of license plates as cars zipped by, then multiplying them by six, or dividing by seven. “Keeping my mind sharp,” she would say.

Therefore, I was never surprised when she frequently chastised me by relating the number of days I had visited her or which days I was late in the last 2 or 3 years. When I would try to fudge she would prompt me on the correct time or date. Her memory seemed chillingly accurate.

Hey! Aunt Mary, now I am on to you. While cleaning out your apartment I found calendar after calendar filled with notes of you visits or calls. You little Angel, you fooled me! I love you! I miss you!

Your nephew,

Richard W. Floyd

February 18, 2012