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April 21, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2004

My Fridays with Auntie Marilyn My Fridays with Auntie Marilyn (April 21, 2004)

People keep telling me what a wonderful thing I'm doing by spending Friday afternoons in Los Gatos with my aunt, helping her out.

To tell the truth, though, I think I'm getting at least as much from it as she is.

I have some pretty amazing relatives, and my dad's sister, Auntie (pronounced 'Ontie') Marilyn, is one of my favorites.

Auntie Marilyn, who turned 78 on Christmas day, is the most optimistic and creative person I know -- she probably could make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. She also attracts interesting people and collects interesting things, making every visit with her a treat.

So, when I found out recently that Auntie Marilyn has breast cancer and needed radiation therapy, I volunteered to drive her to the treatments one day a week. It was the least I could do.

It turned out she could get to and from the treatments on her own, but she asked me to come anyway and help out and maybe work on some writing she wanted to do.

In February I began my Friday visits. We usually go to lunch, then run errands (buying plants at Home Depot is a favorite), have coffee and spend time visiting a neighbor. We've never had time to get to the writing, but we will.

I'm always sad when it's time to go home and cook dinner for my family, to immerse myself back into the countless things waiting for me.

My favorite Friday was the week Marilyn finished the radiation therapy (or "Club RT" as she calls it). She was tired because the treatments had left painful burns on her body, but happy because it was over.

We headed for our favorite downtown Los Gatos Mexican restaurant when the sign for the freeway onramp to Santa Cruz caught Marilyn's attention.

"Want to go to Santa Cruz?" she asked.

"Sure," I said. "Why not?"

Of course, it was impossible for me to head to the beach with no advance planning, not telling anyone where we were going, without feeling like we were out without permission -- skipping school or running away from home. We giggled a little as we drove, with Marilyn reminiscing about some of the other memorable beach trips she'd had.

We made our way to the wharf, where we waited for window seats in a seafood restaurant Marilyn had been visiting for 50 years.

She told me about growing up on the family ranch in Soledad, and stories about my dad, and I ate all my French fries plus her French fries, which turned out to be the only thing at all regrettable about the trip.

Before I headed home, I told Marilyn I hoped she wasn't going to tell me she didn't need me anymore now her treatments were finished.

"Oh, no," she said. "I still need your help!"

I hope so. At this point I think I'd refuse not to be needed.

Barbara Wood writes from her 1889 farmhouse when she can avoid the distractions of her three red-headed teenagers, work-at-home husband, Labrador retrievers, chickens, bunny and garden. Her column runs the third week of the month.


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