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Anne Parker died February 12, 2014, in the rambling house in Canton where she had raised six children, as well as numerous chickens, pigs, doves, and koi. She was 79 years old. Through decades of happy mayhem, she remained famously serene. She never lost her temper, and the only time her children can recall a raised voice was one lady-like exhalation the day the living-room ceiling collapsed.
Anne was raised by nannies in a prominent Michigan social world, where quantities of silver and china were exchanged on Christmas. Escape came briefly each summer by the waters of a remote Upper Peninsula lake. Escape came permanently when she fled across the country to Wellesley College, and wed two years later. Her husband, like her father, was a surgeon, and variants of the Christmas silver and china followed them into the marriage.
There were four children, quickly, then divorce, then remarriage and two more. Anne had learned firsthand that wealth did not create the circumstance of happiness. This was fortunate, because she and her second husband scraped by fiscally. Their station wagon needed a screwdriver to start it, and another car had spark plugs that had to be heated in the toaster oven.
But Anne became stunningly self-sufficient: she made soap out of tallow from the family pigs, wove the rugs, wall-papered the rooms, brewed the root beer, and tenderly sewed everyone’s clothing. A wool bathing suit she knit for one young son nearly sunk him when it took on water.
Vestiges of elite beginnings peeked through in funny ways. There was always chaos: koi in the pond eaten by heron, or a chicken feather, minus the rest of the chicken, found floating in the pig house. But she and her husband read Dickens aloud to each other and held cocktail hour, and the family changed clothes for dinner. They had the habits of wealth without means, and without means, she had created the circumstance of happiness.
Eventually, she found work as an assistant to a dean at Harvard Medical School (which might have made her patrician ancestors happy). She typed, though not accurately, continued to knit under her desk, and arranged his life so efficiently for him that when she retired after 18 years, he was forced to hire two assistants to take her place.
She died with her children around her, recreating the mayhem of earlier years, singing her arias and mixing cocktails, while their own children played on the stair-lift in the hall. On her very last day, in the dregs of February, the sky was brilliantly blue, and the living-room ceiling held.
Did you know Anne Parker? Share your memories in the comments section.
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