Aunt Margaret (1960s)

Aunt Margaret


Don’t commit suicide; because you might change your mind two weeks later.

(Art Buchwald)

My pseudo-cousin Skippy’s mother, Margaret, was my mother’s best friend and my sister’s Godmother, although to this day I never found out how Margaret and my mother met. My sister was named Margaret Jean after both her and my Aunt Thelma Jean, making my sister the only sibling in my family with a truly traceable name.

“Aunt” Margaret, on the surface, was a jocular, upbeat, jovial woman whose smile, laugh or giggle made her a pleasure to be around. Whenever we visited her house she had the natural ability to make us all feel welcome, wanted and special while any potential adversity seemed to roll off her back like castigation rolled off her son’s.

Skippy had both an older sister and a younger brother who were perfect children: quiet, obedient and studious whereas Skippy on the other hand was loud, boisterous, uncontrollable, and hated school. I do not believe that Margaret or his father Nick knew how to handle or to control him from the beginning, a fact that over time only made these behavioral issues spiral geometrically out of control.

After beginning to run with a bad crowd, Skippy eventually became a heroin addict. This was the 1960’s when Scarsdale and Bronxville were relatively upscale bedroom communities making many of Skippy’s friends children of the wealthier families. These were kids who had too much money and too much free time on their hands. Skippy, having less cash, sold his coin collection to pay for drugs then got into serious trouble when he enabled or coaxed the daughter of a high profile Corporate Executive to get hooked on heroin.

At one point when it seemed as though he might turn things around, his parents sent him to school in Florida at the Dade County Community College. He was lucky by this time not to be in the Dade County Jail. The only problem was that after several months, when his parents called to see how he was doing, Skippy could not be located because although the tuition had arrived, apparently Skippy had not. He did not register for class but had set off instead for the Haight-Ashbury section in San Francisco to join the flower people.

It was probably a combination of the stress, the disappointment, and the personal embarrassment that made Margaret stop calling my mother or to socialize with her; but this sudden silence from a former best friend was more than a trivial bother. My mother was deeply hurt by what she perceived to be a snub, had no explanation as to why, only to become progressively bitter about it.

After not hearing from Margaret for quite some time however, one afternoon my mother decided to proactively take matters into her own hands by making an unannounced visit. She took me along for the ride because she thought I might like to see Skippy.

We found Margaret in the living room in the middle of the day with the shades pulled down, sitting in a chair vacantly staring off into space. The atmosphere was dreary yet at the same time tense, there was very little personal interaction, the conversation was tersely impersonal, and being unable to reach out to her or to have any meaningful communication, we left.

Skippy was not in the house, Margaret never even mentioned his name or his whereabouts and when I asked her if he might be coming home soon, she said she didn’t know.

The medical community in those days had a shallow understanding of depressive disorders, how to fully recognize them or how to effectively treat them. Aunt Kay, my father’s sister, was a good example of treatment failure by the barbaric intervention of electro-shock therapy, while my mother naively thought that Margaret was simply down in the dumps and would prefer to be left alone.

My father called Nick to see what was going on, but Nick did not have a handle on it either. He said he knew his wife was having a problem but didn’t know what the problem really was.

Then just a few weeks later, Nick called my father to tell him that Margaret went into the garage one morning after he had gone to work, sat in the front seat of the car, rolled up the windows, locked herself in, turned the engine on and killed herself with the exhaust fumes.

Everyone was devastated and more than one person suggested it might have been, at least in part, because Skippy had plain and simply worn her out and simultaneously slowly broke her heart.

In fact, it was too bad that Margaret did not stick around, because when he finally grew up, Skippy got clean, kicked his heroin habit, married, got a job and then had children of his own.

Margaret’s suicide was also an exception to the rule that women usually do not take their own lives, except for the fact that her behavioral change was a real clue to the fact that she was sick, and desperately needed help. Unfortunately, none of the people who cared about her knew how to recognize or to deal with the issue.

The last I heard from Skippy was in the 1990s about a house he lived in somewhere in the woods of New England or Upstate New York that burned to the ground from an electrical fire.

He told me:

  • Gee Ado. I was asleep and I saw all these flashing lights, colors and sparks, so I said to myself, ’Boy what a cool dream.’ I thought for a minute I was flashing back on LSD and rolled over to go back to sleep, but I guess it’s a good thing I smelled the smoke, woke up and got everyone out of the house.

It was typical for Skippy. He had just lost his house, but never even mentioned it as being a devastating experience. The fact that everyone was safe was most important and the entire incident rolled off his back once again like beaded water off smooth tarpaulin.

He added:

  •  Who cares about a house anyway? I can always get another one. In fact maybe now I’ll just build a better one.

Margaret had three children. One of each. A boy, a girl and a Skippy.

Having children is a genetic crapshoot in a game of chance that can never predict how the DNA will twist and combine its braids. But unlike the YMCA day camp, when you create a missed braid and then unravel it to start all over again, these molecular braids are immutably locked together at the moment of conception with genetic crazy glue.

Children are all about genetics and environment.

How they come out of the box is highly unpredictable.

How they actually turn out may or may not be somewhat modifiable.

Que sera, sera.


Devil or Angel

Dear, which ever you are.

I miss you, I need you, I love you. 

(Bobby Vee)



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