August 10, 2017
It Went Well
August 10, 2017

Voices: Mary and Me

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Having known Mary for my whole life, I never thought of her as contrary. In the last years of her life she became fond of reciting limericks and rhymes which contained her name specifically, "Mary Mary quite contrary." Maybe, the sound of "Mary" spoken in her own voice and heard with her own ears added some solidity to her being as her being was slipping away.

An out-of-date simplistic analysis says, "after 65, older adults look back on life and need to feel a sense of fulfillment. Success is defined as feelings of wisdom, and failure is defined as regret, bitterness and despair." There are a lot of losses in old age. Not just losses by death of people who share a generation, which is not unexpected, but other losses per Google such as memory, hearing, partners, balance, taste, weight and appetite. If you trust Google's top 20, then plan accordingly because these should be expected in addition to the loss of friends. More specifically, and perhaps, downstream on a Google search, are the losses not considered in an old-aging plan such as, of place of residence, of independence, of self-esteem and of choice. If you can't live alone in advanced age, then there will be someone else's rules to push back on. If you can't shop and cook, then someone else's cooking might not have the right flavors.

Mary Mary did become quite contrary in dependent old age. Maybe conceptually she liked to announce that she was privileged enough to live with "my daughter," and maybe she enjoyed breaking the rules by bringing her little lamb to school. She didn't like anything about her daughter's house, her own room in it, her daughter's rules or her daughter's cooking.

Maybe using the metaphorical little girl "Marys" of rhymes was a way to express not a failure or success in a look back after 85, but as a way to communicate to me that becoming contrary was not a choice, but the natural course, an involuntary requiem for the losses sustained by aging.

Thyme N. Haff

2014 January 28

Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day
which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play,
to see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
but still it lingered near,

And waited patiently about,
till Mary did appear.

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
the eager children cry.

"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know."
 the teacher did reply.

Sarah Josepha Hale May 24, 1830


MaryMary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.

She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump the fence, fence, fence.

They jumped so high, high, high
they reached the sky, sky, sky
And didn't come back, back, back
Till the 4th of July, ly, ly!

July can't walk, walk, walk
July can't talk, talk, talk
July can't eat, eat, eat
With a knife and fork, fork, fork.

She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 5 cents more, more, more
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the door, door, door.

They jumped so low, low, low
They stubbed their toe, toe, toe
And that was the end, end, end,
Of the elephant show, show, show!