Sometimes aunts are the greatest
December 14, 2004
As an only child, I equated family with aunts. Without brothers and sisters for entertainment, aunts became the focus of my study and fascination.
I had aunts and great aunts. The greats were my grandmother’s sisters. She was the eldest, then came the twins Helen and Charlotte, and the baby, Sally. By the time I was born they were all in their 70s, but Sally was still the baby.
Helen and Charlotte were fraternal twins who never married. Helen had trained as a nurse and specialized in management. She must have been well suited to her job at a New York City hospital because she was the bossy twin. Aunt Helen was known for “getting up to high C.” One time Aunt Helen was sitting in a small rocking chair near the fireplace telling a story about a runaway horse and carriage. She was so agitated and rocked so hard she went over backwards onto the hearth.
In contrast, Charlotte was as her name sounded: soft, gentle, compliant. She wore lavender clothing and lavender cologne. She’d been a school teacher all her life. She was quiet but determined, and very effective behind the scenes. At Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’, she would eat very little, but was always the first to clear the table so she could snack on the turkey in the kitchen.
Most of their lives, the twins had lived together. In retirement, they shared an apartment in New York City. One time when I was in high school, they invited me to lunch and served tomato aspic, a sort of vegetable Jell-O considered a delicacy by people born in the 1800s and no one else.
The aunts were on my mother’s side of the family. Aunt Carrie, my uncle’s wife, was full of jazzy energy. She wore a charm bracelet that jangled with every step she took. She smoked a cigarette as soon as she woke up in the morning, with a Coke chaser. She gave me my first bottle of cologne, sophisticated jewelry, and seemed more like an entertainer from New Orleans than a housewife from Michigan. I have an image of her dance-vacuuming her living room, Dixieland jazz blasting.
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I did not know Aunt Jean well when I was a child, but as an adult I have appreciated her wonderful sense of humor and ability to laugh at life’s adversities. Afflicted with polio as a child, she has set an example for true grit through operations and accidents, using crutches to get the job done, whatever it was. During the bleak times of the death of my parents, Aunt Jean helped me with a listening ear and sage advice.
Aunt Betty is the most special. Nearly six feet tall, with horned-rim glasses and a childlike voice, she was able to relate to me at my level, intellectually and emotionally, and always has. She would spend Christmas with us, which was a treat for me as the only child. Having Aunt Betty visit for Christmas was nearly as special as Santa himself. She would wake up with me to help me open my stocking. We would both endure my parents’ third cup of coffee at the breakfast table, and quickly dash upstairs to make beds so that present opening time would come sooner. Aunt Betty and I are friends for life and she still is there when I need her today.
I always thought I’d make a great aunt – first an aunt, then a great one. But I am not one and do not expect to be one. So I’m pretending. I act like an aunt with my friends’ children. I choose to indulge instead of admonish. I like to remember their birthdays and holidays. I appreciate them.
I’m also available for adoption as an aunt. I talk on the phone; I listen. With enough material, I will write a children’s story. I give advice when asked. I will never make aspic. I drink Coke on occasion and own a charm bracelet. I have the rocking chair that Aunt Helen went top-over-teakettle in. And I always snack on turkey in the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner. Any takers?
Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, public involvement and nuclear waste issues in Carson City. Her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.