My sis-in-law MaryAlice (or Mac as my brother and I call her) was a one-off. 110% Brooklyn Irish and proud of it. She was devoted to her family to a fault. She fiercely loved my brother. She was tough as steel and could be tender as a puppy. She was stubborn, had a bad temper and an infectious laugh. You didn't want to be on her bad side, but if you were family, even if she knew you were wrong, she'd back you up. She had a sense of loyalty that few people have these days.
She was a little person, 5 feet tall, with big blue eyes and dirty blonde hair. Most of her life she was anorexic. She wore a size 0 wedding gown. Next to my brother, 6'1" and always an athlete, she looked even smaller. But you never saw such a wee one command like she could. She directed things around her. We called her The Little General, as her mother'd been called, too. She took great pride in her appearance and in Billy's. Her hair and nails were always perfect. She took the saying, "Dress yourself with all the jewelry you're going to wear, then take off one piece" seriously. My brother indulged her love of jewelry, but with all the lavish pieces he'd given her over the years, the thing she loved best was the ankle bracelet he gave her for their 28th anniversary. She never took it off.
In 1991 Mac found out she was pregnant. We were all over the moon. They'd been married for years already and we'd given up the idea they'd have children. 9 weeks in, she miscarried. Right after that, her left breast ruptured. It was cancer. She had a full mastectomy. Then they found cancer in her right breast. That too was removed. After the radiation and chemotherapy, she couldn't have children. That same year, her gallbladder was removed. Then both of her parents died, just weeks apart. Somehow she made it through it all. Tough as steel, I tell ya.
What I'll always carry with me is Mac's sense of humor. No line ever passed unnoticed. If nobody else even heard it, if you muttered in a room full of noisy drunks, she'd hear it. I'm proud to say I made her spit and choke on her ever-present glass of wine many times. Mac and I spent many, many hours laughing and drinking at their kitchen table. I can't even count how many times my brother would come into the kitchen as the sun was rising and find us still there. With his hair standing on end, he'd look at us in disbelief and say, "Ladies, it's morning. Time for all good children to go to sleep." And we'd laugh even harder at him.
Mac didn't spare anyone from her humor, especially herself. After I left NYC, we spent hours at a time on the phone keeping up with each other and she'd tell me her stories. Like all good Irishmen, she had the gift of gab and impeccable timing (she was a tireless talker- Billy nicknamed her "Flipperlips" and "Motormouth"). A few years back, she'd been drinking at her sister Kathleen's house. Kathleen lives in a house where the garage is under the 2nd story sitting room. The slope of the front walkway follows the slope of the driveway. It's a significant angle, not steep but lengthy. Anyway, Mac was polluted. Billy went to pull the car up in front of the house and Mac started down the walkway. Somehow she picked up speed. Out of control, she ran down the walkway and face-first into a tree. A total wipeout. Billy pulled up, went over to her laying on the ground and said, "What happened?" She looked up at him and said. "I broke my glasses."
Then there was Uncle Jack's 90th birthday party. The entire clan of cousins, in-laws, everyone, assembled at her cousin Peter's house. Peter has a lovely house by the Narrows shore in Brooklyn. A big backyard that runs down to hedges that obscure the noise and sight of the Belt Parkway. By this time, Mac's osteoporosis meant that if she went anywhere it was in a wheelchair. Billy, at her direction, stacked a case of beer, a box of wine, a grocery bag of munchies and her purse on her lap and pushed her around back to where they were setting up the party. Then he left to go to the bathroom. Busy talking, Mac didn't notice he'd gone. So when her wheelchair started moving she thought Billy was pushing her. In a heartbeat, she was flying down the lawn, lap still full, and zoomed straight into the bushes.
There are so many stories that I could go on forever. But my personal favorite is this. Mac had been under a doctor's care pretty much constantly since the cancer. She was proud of being a 20-year breast cancer survivor. She had well-made custom prosthetic bras and continued to be a sharp dresser. Her doctor of the last 12 or 14 years is a younger woman and they didn't often get along. At one appointment, the doctor said Mac was an uncooperative patient. Mac countered that she did whatever she was supposed to do. The doctor said, "Well, you're in your late fifties and I have no record of you ever having a mammogram." Mac pulled off her bra, handed them to her and said, "Take them and do it. I don't have to be present for it."
Yep, that was Mac.
And I think I'll end this with the way we always ended our conversations. "Okay, I'll talk to you soon. Love ya. Bye."
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