Marlene Brenner died yesterday at the age of 68. She was my aunt — my father’s younger sister — and I owe her a lot.
Aunt Marlene was a constant presence in my childhood. With my siblings and grandmother, we’d go on trips to the White Mountains and lakes of New Hampshire. Many a family meal was had at her house in the Point of Pines, Revere, which was a quick walk from my father’s house at the southern part of the neighborhood and my mother’s house from the northern section.
My parents divorced when I was 10 and I often hung out in that house to escape the difficulties. I loved that house. More often than not, it was a place for holiday celebrations.
At the family business in Saugus, my aunt had a needlepoint shop in the building for a time in the 1970s. I used to hide in her back room watching Saturday-morning cartoons on the little TV she kept in there. In later years my father put a shoe store in that space and my aunt managed it for many years.
I remember her checking the ingredients of every food package before letting me have it because I was often sick from Crohn’s Disease and wasn’t supposed to have milk.
Her family always came first. She focused on the family business at the expense of a social life.
She didn’t have it easy. She would often isolate herself from the rest of the world and skip family gatherings later in life. As a kid I didn’t quite understand that, but as an adult it was clear that like me and other family members, she suffered from depression.
She suffered a stroke in mid-March and never really recovered from it. Her decline coincided with that of my father, who is still hanging on in hospice as I write this.
It’s been a sad time for the family. But I’ve spent a lot of that time looking through old photo albums my aunt and grandmother kept, learning more about a rich family history I couldn’t grasp as a kid. That’s been a huge gift.
Mostly, my memories are full of family doing the best they could under often difficult circumstances. That includes memories are of my aunt taking me to the mountains and lakes, giving me crucial breaks from my own personal demons.
I’ll never forget that, and I’m forever grateful.
Rest in peace, Aunt Marlene.