The Heroines

Phyllis P McDonald

is honored with a Brick from Anita Skeen

Phyllis Pruden McDonald

    If, when I was a child, I had asked the magic mirror, Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Who is fairest of them all? I would have expected that, without hesitation, it would have answered, Aunt Phyllis. After all, it was the 1950s, and I was a kid growing up in West Virginia enamored of the movies, Hollywood, Disneyland, and all that was the Promised Land of Southern California. That was where my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Wick lived, along with my cousins, and where I first visited in 1954 when I was 8 years old. My first memory of my aunt is that she was beautiful in that classic 1940s and 1950s pin-up girl and screen star kind of way: blond, blue-eyed, beautiful skin, beautiful smile, perfect figure. When I looked at the high school graduation photos of my mother and her two sisters, all of them looked like movie stars to me, but especially Aunt Phyllis, and here she was living in California, and, wow, with a swimming pool in her backyard, what a life she must have.
    Here are some other things I remember about my aunt, That she had this wondrous yellow kitchen, flowers blooming all over the wallpaper, glass topped round table where we all sat for breakfast, California summer morning light streaking into the room. That the smell of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee woke me every morning, and the sound of my aunt and my mother laughing in the kitchen was a sound I never heard at home. That I had the first taco I ever ate in my life at her house, and she let me eat five of them the very first time. And, years later, I had my first avocado, alfalfa sprout and cheese sandwich, in pita bread, there too. That she taught my little brother to walk holding his finger out in front of him like a rudder, and that when he did, he circled through the living room, kitchen, and hallway for hours, my aunt walking just ahead of him. That I always felt special in my aunt's house, and that after I grew up and left home, and the summer vacations with my family to California ended, I still went back to see my aunt and uncle on my own, as an adult, whenever I was near LA, and when they moved to Phoenix after my uncle retired, whenever I went west,.     What makes my aunt a heroine to me? Hers is the every day kind of heroism, the often unnoticed kind, the kind that doesn't make the history books. She raised my three cousins to be talented, interesting, and independent people. They are all smart, they are all artistic, they are all kind and compassionate human beings. They are all still my friends after fifty years. My uncle suffered from chronic emphysema and my aunt cared for him through more than fifty years of marriage, through those awful last few years where he was incapacitated, embittered, but unwilling to die. His struggle was remarkable, as was hers. Not long after his death, she was diagnosed with melanoma, had surgery, lost a large part of one foot, and battled back to have more years of life left than anyone predicted. Now the melanoma has returned, but she refuses to give in. She's 82 years old, lives alone, has declined the invasive medical procedures that would make the last phase of her life one full of illness and pain. Two weeks ago she and my cousins spent five days on a cruise ship, and I understand from my cousin Cindy that she was gorgeous in her evening gown and danced, in high heels, into the early hours of the morning. I imagine she caught the eye of many gentlemen on that cruise, and I imagine they thought how beautiful this older woman still was. They're right about that, but they could not begin to see the other kind of beauty she possess, the kind that comes from a lifetime of love and laughter, through the bad times as well as the good, the kind of beauty that is synonymous with joy, and excitement of life, but most of all, with courage.

Anita Skeen