By Linda Grupp Boutin
Aunt Mary entered this world 40 years earlier than me. She became a constant in my life when I first remember her stopping by our house to visit in Indiana when I was about 5. Visits from any and all aunts, uncles, grandparents, family of all kinds caused extreme excitement among us kids. A family with a dozen children can be intimidating for anyone to visit and we cherished those who came bringing fresh ideas and things to do and talk about.
My Aunt Mary ranked high among those bringing unfamiliar concepts and ideas. She taught me about social justice before I ever reached my teens. She brought along the most interesting people, like George from Germany, Tony who always drove a VW Bug his whole life, oh and by the way, she herself drove one of those VW Van Conversions made for camping with a stove built in and everything.
She often loaded the van to the gills, overflowing with medications for a run to the Tijuana health clinic she helped build. Another time she would load the seats with clothes for the poor in tent city, filling the area behind the seats with 50 pound bags of rice and beans and cases of eggs she picked up on her way south at the egg farm. Aunt Mary didn't just talk about social justice, she demonstrated it nearly every time I saw her.
When I was 20, Mary came to attend my mom's funeral. We drove through the streets near the San Fernando Mission Cemetery heading over to my brother, Pete's, house. As we pulled up she asked me if I thought she should retire early to have more time to work with the poor in Tijuana. I asked her if she could afford to do it. She thought about it for a moment and said she thought it wouldn't be a problem. So I answered that I thought it would be a good idea.
Around that same time she explained to me that she was a charismatic Catholic. At that time I didn't understand what she meant by that, but by watching I learned that it meant a much more personal relationship with God than I understood from my Catholic schoolgirl days. It meant that following Jesus' example was the cornerstone of Mary's life. But I am getting ahead of myself.
A mere one year later, Gary and I moved to East San Diego County after we married. This was Aunt Mary's favorite place and although she lived nearly an hour to the south, she stopped in to visit us regularly. She loved our little farmette with chickens, goats, dogs and cats o'plenty. She roared up our dirt driveway in her VW van and we just never knew what wonders she would bring out from inside. When we were experimenting with raised-bed gardening, she brought up a couple dozen strawberry plants started in an odd assortment of coffee cans. We never hungered for the luscious, red berries after planting them. The plants went wild and I could hardly keep up with picking all of them.
She brought coffee cans another time too, but this time filled with snails she had plucked out of her own garden. Before I could faint at the sight of all those snails, she exclaimed that the chickens would just love them. She headed straight over to the chicken coop, invited me to join her in the door, and scattered the snails all over the fresh hay covering the ground. I never saw those chickens so excited before that, they consumed the snails with such a voracious hunger that you might think they had never been fed in their lives. Those hens and roosters just must have listened for that van coming up the drive, such wondrous treats came hidden inside.
As illness overtook my life the second summer we were married. Aunt Mary made time to take me to the doctor and tests and whatever else she could. It was around that time that her parting advice to me was always, "Linda, don't overdo!" I knew it pained her to see me wasting away and then tethered to machines for all my nutrition. She believed in healthy eating and how could everything needed for life come from intravenous chemicals. She shared with me her many techniques for eating better, but still I could not eat.
Occasionally she invited me to accompany her on her forays to Tijuana. I had never seen such poverty in my whole life. It shocked me until we arrived at tent city and I witnessed how important Mary was to that small community. The children came running to her van and she passed out eggs which they swallowed raw to my amazement. She took me to the clinic and Mother Catherine's convent too. She always made sure to get me home on time to take care of my medical needs too.