Thingish Things

Gratitude in Motion

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jan• 04•12

Ann C. Buckley with Her Family, Life Magazine, 1970

Anyone who has ever been to Sharon, Connecticut in late afternoon in August knows there is nothing more uncommonly annoying than the common American gnat.  The tiny black flies swarm in Sharon Valley by the millions in late summer, appearing ghostlike, halo-like, in their abundance around the heads of every breathing creature. People’s eyes, mouths, and nasal cavities are heavenly to them. Dogs will refuse to go outside when the gnats are at their worst. 

Five Augusts ago, I was visiting my mother’s family home in Sharon with my wife and three children — and struggling to keep my cool by a swimming pool on the grounds. The gnats were out in full force. And they were getting to us. Our two older girls were bickering, as they coughed and swiped away bunches of the insects, before plunging into the pool in tandem for a few moments of peace. We were on vacation. I had my wife and three beautiful children in tow – without a worry in the world – yet I found myself, I am ashamed to admit, feeling persecuted by Sharon’s gnats, which I knew would mercifully vanish with the Berkshire winds at dusk.

My wife had just gone inside our house for respite with our 11-month-old daughter, when I noticed on a hill above the pool, 150 yards away, my Aunt Ann, slightly slumped in a wheelchair, gazing down upon us. I had not seen my aunt since her body had been broken in a terrible automobile accident some months before, leaving her almost entirely paralyzed. Standing beside her was a healthcare attendant who briefly went inside herself.  But my Aunt Ann stayed there and watched us as the day’s shadows grew long.  

I couldn’t bear to think of her sitting there with the gnats swarming – her hands were unable to swat them away – but I quickly surmised that she had netting about her head to keep the pests at bay. We stayed at the pool for an extra half hour because I knew she was feeling joy watching us, listening to the laughs, cries – and sharp objections – of eight- and 10-year-old children performing cannonballs and one-handed jackknives into a pool. 

The gnats had gone away by the time we made it up the hill to say hello and goodnight to Aunt Ann. Her eyes alone animated her. They twinkled with delight in spying the girls walking toward her, towels in hand, in the gloaming of a summer day. She beamed.   

But what I really noticed was the absence of netting.  There had been none.  My Aunt Ann had endured – ignored – the unendurable gnats, soaking in with gratitude instead the blessings of the day as she saw them. She had refused to be brought inside with all there was to appreciate before her.  (It’s also possible that the gnats feared her.)

My Aunt Ann was a devout Catholic.  Her faith in God’s judgment was unshakable. There was never a complaint from her – ever – regardless of any worldly suffering, because every day on earth is a gift. She knew that.

Ann Cooley Buckley (1927-2011) demonstrated the preciousness of life ’til the day she died. She was buried today, surrounded by her husband and six children, a mile from that August perch. RIP.

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  1. Daniel Suib says:

    Great story Bill…I’m sorry to hear of the passing of Aunt Ann. My condolences to your entire family.

  2. V V Harrison says:

    Lovely story. I attended Ann’s funeral. She was a great friend to me and a real example of courage, faith, humor and love.I remember your mother, as we lived next door to the Buckleys in Camden. Your sister gave me a ride to the reception and I spoke with your father there.Keep writing..

  3. Andy B. says:

    They had reason to fear her, Bill! Thank you for the memory, and sorry we never had the chance to chat at the reception.


    • Billy says:


      It’s funny. I never thought of your mother as a sternmaster. Clearly I didn’t spend enough time in your house. Or maybe because I was always with you — my occassional superior in disobediance — you caught the brunt of it.

      Hang in there.


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