Farewell to My Aunt Mary

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

For all of my friends who have been missing me me on the New York scene, I'm in Los Angeles for the homegoing celebration of my Aunt Mary, my mother's last remaining relative from her immediate family.

Mary Ann Nancy Ann Colbert Lacy Gaines-Hicks
was my favorite aunt. She was the second youngest of six children - five girls and one boy - born to my grandparents Cornelia (Hornbeak)Gaines and Enoch Gaines, in a little town called Burneyville, just outside Ardmore, Oklahoma, on the Texas-Oklahoma Border. They were Eula, JoAnne, Altrecia, Mary, A.C. (Uncle Buddy), and my Mother, Ruby Love. Aunt Mary had the distinction of having the longest name in the family, having been named after several different family friends and relatives.

When I learned that Aunt Mary had made her transition to the realm of ancestors, a momentary feeling of sadness stole over me. She was my Mom’s older sister by just a little over a year, and, having reached the age of 89, would have in another 2 months would have officially been 90. My mom is 88! Being the last two members of the Gaines/Hornbeak side of my family, mother and Mary would talk often, comparing notes, reminiscing over things that they had done in their childhood. She in California, Mother in Oklahoma.

I dropped the sadness when I thought about my last memories of Aunt Mary - she was in her 80’s sporting a gold, on gold, in gold Cadillac Brougham, with her silver/white hair streaming down her back. She was a dynamic spirit. She represented quiet energy. Aunt Mary led a full, though somewhat sequestered, life. And she did this right up to 6 months before she made her transition. In fact, my Aunt wearing her hair natural was this example that inspired my mom to “go natural".

While my Aunt Mary never ran for or held political office; she was not a part of any of the civil rights movements or activities; neither was she a movie star, even though she lived in HollyWierd all of her adult life, she was definitely a success on so many levels.

She was one of the most beautiful women ever - next to my Mom Ruby Love, of course. My Grandaddy had rich, deep, dark, bittersweet chocolate brown skin, and Grandmom Cornelia being a beautiful Cherokee nation sister, together produced a beautiful crop of kids. Aunt Mary could have easily been on the cover of Jet, Ebony, Sepia, Tan or any of the other Black magazines of the day. She was always in style, always wore beautiful jewelry, fashionable clothes and smelled like a perfumery.

My first remembrance of my Aunt Mary was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I was playing dress up and had gotten into her make up and her clothes - had on her high heels, had a big over sized purse hanging off my shoulder, and was clack-clacking around my Grandmoms, when my mother got on my case -- I remember saying, as if I owned her - “That’s my Aunt Mary!” Mary took some photos of me dressed up in her stuff - I wish I could find those them. What a kick that would be! Don’t know if little girls play dress up anymore - but Black in the day, we certainly had a lot of fun pretending to be grown up, imitating the people we admired the most - and I certainly admired my Aunt Mary.

Aunt Mary married J.D. Hicks, an entrepreneur, who took her out of Oklahoma to California, in the 40's, where she resided in the finest of homes. The times I went to visit her(which really weren’t often enough), she always treated me royally.

She had practically every gadget known to man (or woman); and, like most Oklahoma women, could cook, sew, and create. She designed clothes, furniture and any other concept that sprang to mind. She didn’t do it to be manufactured, or reproduced; she did it just to see if it would work. And when it did, she turned around and developed something else.

Aunt Mary was probably the closet to what you would call a recluse in our family. She and her hubby owned several clubs in Los Angeles - but Mary never went out. He traveled all over the world; she stayed at home; he liked to party, she loved the quiet times. Yet they were married for over 40 years until he passed on - the perfect odd couple. She made him a wonderful, loving home, and he would always return.

The wonderful thing about my Aunt Mary was that she was the family historian. Everything you ever wanted to know about our family, she was the one to ask. I recently learned that the Gaines side of the family was German; and one of the paternal family members was sent to Germany to study after they graduated from normal school in Oklahoma. Now, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that since my great-grand mom was a former slave who would never live in the house my grandfather built because it looked too much like the “big house.” (But that’s another story for another day).

My Aunt Mary and my Mom, Ruby Love, spoke at least once a week, especially as it became evident that they were the last two remaining of the Hornbeaks(and depending on who you were talking to, on any particular day, you could also be a Hornbeck - we rocked back and forth between the two names). You heard little to nothing about the Gaines, except that my Granddaddy, who owned 180 acres of land, and some of our relatives share cropped on his property.

But my mother and her sisters were cultivated to be young ladies, and were not to be kept down on the farm. If you looked at any of the styles of the 1940’s you could see beautiful, vivacious, Black women, dressed to impress, setting the style and the tone. Where is Sepia Magazine when we need it?

My Aunt Mary could and should have been in one of Oscar Michaux movies; she should have been on the front cover of AARP as the poster girl for beauty after 80 - not a wrinkle anywhere!! Eyes bright and sparkly; quick, clear speech patterns. An absolute beauty - ageless, timeless, eternal.

That spark of energy is something that I will always remember and treasure about Aunt Mary. I know she's with the rest of our ancestors, and her beloved JD, coming up with some bright new concept, or playing a mean game of checkers.

My condolences to my Mother, Ruby Love, as well as to my Brothers, Warner, Jr., Silas Sylvester, and my Sister Brenda.

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Jeanne

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