I may have told this story before. But today would be her 95th birthday, so:
My novel The Marriage of True Minds is dedicated to my aunt Margaret. The dedication reads:
Finally, this story would not have been written without the inspiration and encouragement of my aunt Margaret Norris. This book is dedicated to her memory.
The first sentence was an understatement. Let me explain.
My mother’s older sister, Marg had an extraordinary influence on my life. When I was growing up, I spent many summer weeks with her at her place near the Chesapeake in southern Maryland. We shared many things, but mostly a blazing curiosity about pretty much everything. At night, camping on the beach with a driftwood fire, we talked Einstein and aliens, forests and fossils.
Later in life, we didn’t spent much time together. I became busy with work, marriage, divorce, life. I would see her on birthdays and holidays. Somehow our connection never waned.
In December 1999, just before Christmas, she went in the hospital. On Christmas Eve, we learned that she had pneumonia. On New Year’s Eve, just a few days before her eightieth birthday, we found out that she also had lung cancer. Family members took turns staying with her at her house in southern Maryland and caring for her, two weeks at a time, getting her back and forth to doctors and chemotherapy. I took the first turn.
I was happy to have this time with her. And she was happy I was there. But she was also very worried that I was taking care of her instead of working (something which didn’t concern me at all). That she could worry about me given her condition tells you much about her.
So to keep her from worrying, I told her I was writing something. I wasn’t really. But I had written a few things before, a play, some stories, so it wasn’t completely unbelievable. I didn’t like to tell her something that wasn’t true. But I didn’t want her to worry.
On my next turn to care for her, she mentioned again that she was worried about me and work. So I told her again: I was writing something. I even broke out my laptop once in a while and tried to look busy.
Still she worried. And she was not ever one to let things go. So, I decided that by the next visit I had to have something to show her.
I can never remember her without a dog in her life, even if she had to borrow the neighbor’s. And the squirrels and birds of the area worshiped her generosity, I’m sure. She often donated to animal welfare groups. I came across a magazine at her house from an organization named Best Friends, an animal sanctuary in Utah. The magazine had printed a letter from actress Rene Russo documenting the millions of animals each year who are euthanized in animal shelters. I had no idea this horrific situation existed, and couldn’t get it out of my mind.
So when my caregiving shift was over and I went home, I began writing a screenplay about a divorced couple, where one of them becomes quixotically dedicated to animal rescue. I wrote the first draft in three weeks.
By my next visit, she was beyond a nephew’s care. But I was able to give her a copy of the screenplay. I don’t know if she read it (given her condition, I suspect not). But I think she was happy to see it. About a month or so after, she passed away. At the funeral, I began her eulogy with this:
Some people are so authentic in our lives that they change us completely just by being who they are. Marg was like that. Many of us probably can’t conceive what our life would have been like without her. I certainly can’t.
That screenplay became the basis for The Marriage of True Minds, my first novel. I would not have written it without this experience, I believe, and possibly, would not be writing at all without her influence. For a long while, I considered the story her gift to me, the last of so many. But now I think: a gift, yes, a great gift. But not the last.