aunt margie

in a few short weeks, rich and i will be married, and the timing of my great aunt margie passing away just recently on june 14th feels like it coincides in some way. aunt margie is the matriarch of a great big family; her 2 daughters and 8 grandchildren gave their grammy many great grandchildren (if i use my fingers and toes, i estimate 18), and as of last count, 8 great great grandchildren in her 95 year lifetime.

but beyond that, aunt margie was a second mother to my own mom (pictured above), when my own grandparents were preoccupied with poppy’s health. my mom spent many summers traveling around to national parks with aunt margie and uncle george, attending what all the family fondly refers to as the “george buirkle school of combat camping” and passing on so much wonderful outdoors and camping knowledge to my brothers and me. one of the reasons rich and i have chosen glacier national park for our honeymoon is because my mom always said it was her favorite park that she visited with aunt margie and uncle george. though they always came back to the adirondacks, and hence that is where the whole extended family has always spent some portion of the summer.

among the horde of cousins in this large family, there is a consensus, whether spoken or unspoken, that what you want in life is a marriage like the one between aunt margie and uncle george (or if you’re their direct descendents, grammy and pop). we generation x-ers all attended their 50th wedding anniversary as kids and teens, and i know i am not the only kid in the family who was deeply influenced by the impressive duration of their relationship, the observable affection, and the palpable mutual adoration between the two of them. their connection was what you wanted to strive for in life. not everyone finds it, but they certainly did, and they provided such a wonderful example for us, of how we are meant to treat our significant others in this lifetime. their love for each other overflowed blessings onto each one of us.

aunt margie treated everyone like they mattered deeply to her; it’s just who she was. no matter how many score of cousins were running around, she made me feel like i was the complete center of her attention, for as long as i could stand to tell her about myself and my life. i have a vivid memory of sitting in lawn chairs on the dock, little cousins in life jackets swinging around dripping perch on the ends of fishing lines, and aunt margie focused intently on my high school highs and lows while the rest of the chaos orbited around us. i know this is how it was for each and every one of us kids. you were the focus of her undivided attention, and the act of her caring about the insignificant goings on in your child or teenage life left such a profound impact on me, on all of us. i will never forget the feel of her hands holding mine, the kindness of her eyes, the sound of her sweet voice praying over me and sharing wisdom, feeling filled to the brim after she poured her love into me.

celebrating her life should be the province of not only her family, but all the people who know anyone whose life she touched. while you may never have met her, the person you know who was loved by aunt margie is a better and kinder person for having been near her, and you are benefiting from it whether you know it or not.

the substantial number of her descendants notwithstanding, aunt margie had a far wider circle of influence in her community beyond her relatives. she spent many years volunteering as a pregnancy counselor, and i am sure there is no way to count how many young womens’ and childrens’ lives in which she made a tremendous positive difference, again because of her steadfast presence.

when we were wee little children, and aunt margie and uncle george would visit us on the farm, we received the extra special treat of having bedtime stories told by aunt margie. her bedtime stories always involved leprechauns. she had hungarian roots, but never mind that. her irish accent was impeccable and her stories were magical and always involved each of us children in some manner. patrick begorabegora and maureen mcgroodigoodie, no bigger than our thumbs, captivated our imaginations as they rode around behind our ears, and i remember some of those stories to this day. when i went to kindergarten, my mom sewed lace onto the pocket of my jumper so maureen would have a way to watch what was going on at school, by peeking out through the little eyelets. i will always cherish this one story in aunt margie’s handwriting, which i have saved since i was about 6 years old. while i do believe that her integrity rubbed off on all of us, i will also admit that i would unabashedly lie about having a sore throat so i could stay home and see them off the morning after a visit, if it was a school day. i would not willingly miss one minute of time with her.


i will always be able to picture them in the upstairs apartment at camp 815 on pork bay of saranac lake, and then when we got older, at benchmark over on fish creek. i will always remember aunt margie riding up front in uncle george’s boat, with their dog heidi or heidi too. the boat was quite literally labeled “pop’s boat”, and was the site of many of our very first lessons on driving a boat, under his supervision. the george buirkle school of combat camping was still taking recruits when i was a kid, and we were proud to enlist. we learned to canoe on long day trips to follensby clear pond or floodwood pond, with uncle george and aunt margie in the lead of a long train of family members, two or three to a canoe, weaving through the lily pads.


back at one cabin or another, we’d sit around a table playing games; 99 or uno or chicken foot, and aunt margie would always want to be dealt in. she taught us many of the games, in fact. she was so good at being there in the present moment. she always seemed to be available to painstakingly fry up any child’s proud catch of a 9-inch sunny or perch, and made the best brownies and chocolate chip cookies in all the land.


one of my cousins said in her remembrance of aunt margie, “she was the best person i’ve ever known.” this is how i feel, and it’s not an overstatement. nor does it feel like i’m insulting any of the other wonderful people in my life, say, for example, my wonderful mom, because i know that mom pretty much feels the same way. we are all profoundly sad, yet all of us have known for all of our lives that she had her affairs in order and was ready to meet her maker, more ready than anyone i’ve ever really known. we are also all drawing comfort from the idea of aunt margie reuniting with her love, uncle george, 22 years and 2 days after his passing. that number will stick with me, because for rich and i, the 22nd is our day.



their song was stardust, sung by hoagy carmichael. however, you can’t talk about songs and aunt margie and uncle george in the same breath without mentioning how great thou art. it was always uncle george’s favorite, and it makes sense, given how they lived every moment of their lives glorying in “awesome wonder [at] the world thy hands have made.” nature was their church, every bit as much as a building with four walls. i don’t know that they ever said this to me, it was simply what i observed, watching them marvel at the simple wonders in the natural world; a hummingbird at the feeder, a beaver dam, a great blue heron, sunset on saranac lake. it is one of the many things i fell in love with in rich, because he and i can sit around and do the same thing. he had me at, “i was up early to cut firewood and got to see a beautiful sunrise…”

“when through the woods and forest glades i wander

and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

when i look down from lofty mountain grandeur

and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze

then sings my soul….”

i also think of them on evenings when i pour him a drink, or he pours one for me, because that was a ritual aunt margie and uncle george practiced as well, always serving each other with gladness and receiving from one another in gratitude. i feel they would love rich and welcome him as their great nephew-in-law. i hope i can be the wife of noble character to him that aunt margie was to uncle george.

from proverbs 31:

10 A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her

    and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm,

    all the days of her life.

13 She selects wool and flax

and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships,

bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still night;

she provides food for her family

and portions for her female servants.

16 She considers a field and buys it;

out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;

her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,

and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff

and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor

    and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;

for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;

    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,

where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,

and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;

    she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom,

    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household

    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;

    her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women do noble things,

    but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,

and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

as i’ve spent several sessions trying to articulate these reflections, i’ve also spontaneously burst into tears a number of times, which is why it has taken me quite a few days to get this written. i have to thank my cousins and their facebook posts for some of those spontaneous cries (and for some of these wonderful photos i have borrowed). my brothers and i have predicted out loud to each other that this would be a hard time in our lives, losing her. i’m wondering now if part of it has to do with losing my nana so young (i was only 4) and aunt margie taking on the role in our lives as the repository for all maternal grandmotherly energy. i know that as a 4 year old, i probably did not manage to work through it all at the time, and i suspect there is ungrieved nana grief that is still making its way up and out, as grief will do when the spigot is opened.

nana and aunt margie around 1942

nana as aunt margie’s maid of honor, 1942

i imagine the loss of both of them as a little bit inextricable, and when i cry, the tears are for our whole grandparent generation, of whom she was the last remaining to us. nana was aunt margie’s maid of honor when aunt margie and uncle george were married, and then nana and poppy got married on the the same day (september 14th) several years later. since my own memories of nana were few, aunt margie acted as a storehouse of memories of her. i always felt i was being given back pieces of her as little gifts throughout the years whenever they’d tell me how much i resemble anne, or tell stories about her.

as aunt margie laughs at the days to come and crosses over, her children, grandchildren, great and great great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and mere great nieces arise and call her blessed.

5 comments to aunt margie

  • mamaC

    MB, it has been so moving to read your very special memories of Aunt Margie and to know more about this special person in your life and family, and your feelings for her. To me, that first vivid photo including your mom with Margie & George (and snowman) is particularly priceless (on all their counts) and seems to convey so much. I’m sorry to know of your loss and glad to know that you are grieving so well. Thinking of you, my dear. love, Amy

    (p.s. Received your stout packet in the mail and will be sending responses soon. I loved the color of our flag.)

  • camp boss

    She was a shining example of proverbs 31 woman!! And I think she would be so PROUD of the woman you have become. I know you will always remember and honor her life and legacy!!

  • wow mary beth! what an amazing woman! you did such a wonderful job writing this post, and all of the pictures you collected to go with it are fantastic. i really enjoyed reading about this inspiring woman, and i imagine you(along with other family members) will enjoy coming back here to look through again and remember.
    jenny recently posted..fireworks of a different kind

  • this comment is from mom… sticking it here for safe-keeping.
    Dear MB, Thanks for putting so many of my thoughts into words. The pictures are precious. The camping pictures were taken by Uncle George and I never had copies of them, but saw them many times, when we had slide shows. I recognize a certain look on my face. When we were doing something really fun, I would miss my parents so much that I would withdraw and think of special times we had had together. It always came across as a scowl like I was angry. I wasn’t. I was so happy yet so unbearably sad at the same time because my mom and dad were probably dealing with another of Poppy’s health crisises. I think you are on your way to being the kind of wife she was to Uncle George. Rich must feel very blessed . Talk to you soon. Love, Mom

  • […] am thankful for my great aunt margie. i attempted to write how i feel about her in a post a few weeks after she passed away, and just a few weeks before rich and i got married this summer. […]

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