Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Aunt Monica Mumford, R.I.P.

Monica on the left, the last time I saw her in Sarasota, Florida, with my uncle Brian and my mother. 

Two weeks ago TD and I flew to Colorado to visit my sister Cynthia and Barb, and my father in his new residence there. As we were driving back to the Denver airport to depart, my brother Thom called with the sad news that our aunt Monica Jane Mumford, who we called Monnie, had passed away unexpectedly after a short illness in Sarasota, Florida.

Monica was a wonderful free spirit and adventurer in my life. When we were kids growing up, we were close to the siblings of my mother - Ellen, Monica and Brian. For example, Brian took me on my first airplane trip, from Albany to Philadelphia, where we visited my grandparents in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Monica and Ellen lived in an apartment in New York City, and my mother took my brother Thom and I there to visit them. We went to the Barnum & Bailey Circus and I was so excited at Madison Square Garden that I thought my head was going to explode. We went to visit the F.A.O. Schwartz toy store, which was then housed in the building where the Bergdorf Goodman Men's store is today. The top floor had the most complicated and wonderful operating train sets. The Four Seasons restaurant was the destination at cocktail hour (my mother was quite fearless in bringing two young boys into the iconic restaurant). The waiter brought me a glass of tomato juice wedged into a pile of shaved glass in a small bowl "for the bambino."

Three sisters - Ellen, my mother, and Monica, at our last big family Christmas holiday get-together, which my parents hosted at home in Connecticut

Later Monica lived alone in a studio apartment and worked at an ad agency. Thom and I went to visit her there and she took us all around New York City including down Christopher Street, which was then actually gay. Again, with the exploding head. She bought Thom a denim jacket which was the coolest thing I had ever seen. She introduced us to New York, which had a big influence on both of us, to say the least. As a single gal in the city in the 60s, she had great style. I still remember her meeting us as we got off the train at Grand Central Station in a snappy navy blue and white outfit.

Sunglasses, leopard print coat, head scarf - our very own Jackie O. –

Funny memory - when my great aunt May died at home in Herkimer in the late 60s, we all went to the funeral. My grandmother, who was a stickler for clothes and how people were dressed, gave Monica a hard time because Monica was carrying a black patent leather handbag with shiny gold trim. Patent leather and shiny gold were not appropriate for a funeral. (Of course I remember all this minutiae.)

Monica was always up for an adventure, always interested and excited about something new, and always supported my creativity. Visiting my grandparents in Haddonfield, New Jersey, she bought me a jewelry making kit and encouraged me to make jewelry in the basement - paper mache flower earrings and a pin, which my mother kindly wore for a short time. Monica still talked often about our O'Donnell family and had wonderful stories to tell plus she gave me family-related gifts so she was an invaluable link for me back to the past. She smoked constantly but she had long, thin elegant fingers which made smoking look impossibly chic. A great curiosity and imagination plus a lovely melodious way of speaking made her the most delightful company, in person or on the phone.

A love for animals was a lifelong passion and she always had a beloved pet dog. When I was young, she had a bird, a yellow parakeet I think it was, which she named Pourquoi, as in "Why did I buy this bird?" She led an unorthodox life and went her own way. After high school, Monica entered the convent for a short time. Here is a picture of us together at 611 at that time. I was not yet one year old.

She wrote me a note on the back of the photo -

"Bart - Eve of year when I was going into convent. You were my best thrill before I did it -"
We were good friends for a very long time. I will miss her a lot.