December 13, 2016


November 11, 2016 – Let us now celebrate my beloved Grandmother, Myrtle M. Burke, born 111 years ago today.

I remember Myrtle smiling widely as she recalled the celebrations and confetti on her 13th birthday – the day World War One (the Great War, the War to End All Wars) ended. This portrait is from her first wedding, when Myrtle Kell married Robert MacGregor, who would tragically lose his life in a car crash. Myrtle somehow kept slugging away, working (for the phone company) and living through personal grief and the Great Depression. In the late 1930s, Myrtle was introduced by a co-worker, my Aunt Geraldine, to my Grandfather, Joe Burke, a young widower himself. They married in 1940 and faced life, with its wars – World War Two, Korea – together. I only know my Grandpa Joe through stories; he died in 1963, which would leave Myrtle again on her own for another 29 years.

As I grew up, Grandma Myrtle and Aunt Gerry became two lighthouses in my life – beacons, living on their own in separate apartments, cooking feasts for family at Thanksgiving and other holidays, hosting card games and cocktails for their lady friends, ushering my Brother, my Cousins and me to live theater shows and movies. In fact, I wouldn’t have experienced live theater as a child without Grandma and Aunt Gerry.

I grew especially close to Myrtle in her final years, when my Dad was driving trucks cross-country and I was helping Grandma manage surgeries and caregivers. I was alone with her the late night when she died, just shy of her 87th birthday.

Myrtle dramatically changed the course of my life. With an unexpected, small inheritance from her, I left a job I loved to travel, move back into Chicago and study creative writing in the graduate program at Columbia College. I blew through the money in a year; someone wiser would’ve made it stretch, invested it. Instead, I lived a year when I said “Yes!” to everything, which is a major investment itself.

I have Myrtle to thank for that freedom.

And when I ran through the money and went back to work, I met Robert Charles. That dramatically changed the course of my life, as well.

I am forever grateful to this fine woman. Happy birthday, Grandma!


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