I think most people have “Aunts”. They don’t have to be related, and they don’t have to be single, or childless, and they don’t have to be of a certain age, or even, for that matter, female, but they do have to have a love for the children (current and past) in their lives. They are often that adult in a child’s life who says “Yes” to gooey treats an hour before dinner, or lets you wander around outside in the snow in the dusk, when a ‘real’ adult would be “tsk- tsk-ing” and worrying you to death. (And sometimes, they are the crotchety old woman next door that scolds everyone for walking on newly seeded grass!)
That isn’t to say this person is irresponsible—indeed this man or woman is usually a close friend and confidante of your parents—sometimes, it’s almost like having a bonus set of uber-cool adults who think you are just perfect.
Those aunts in my life were all nearby and I spent a good deal of time with them, and they were all ‘great’ aunts/cousins. Aunts Marse and Edith lived ‘Down Below’ and Aunts Gert and (cousin) Sis lived ‘Up Above’. Then there was of course Cousin Vivienne, in a class all by herself.
When we went to visit Davis Avenue (Up Above, the house my grandfather’s mother lived in –was born in?) it meant we could wander around a huge yard, tromp up and down the street, wave to Mr. Pine next door, and generally be loud and crazy. Or come inside (to this day I could walk you through this house with a scary amount of detail), pretend to play with the huge cabinet radio, crawl under the china cabinet and remove the toys left there for us, or sit in the kitchen with the adults and have “tea”… milky, watered-down tea in a china cup and saucer, with Grandma Elaine, Mary T, Boy McNally, Sis and Gert.
Going ‘Down Below’ (Victory Blvd, the house where my grandfather was born) often meant we had to stay inside, as the back ‘yard’ was really the parking lot for the funeral home. We couldn’t play ball or run about if there was a funeral going on, but if there wasn’t, we could go inside and visit and say “Hi” to Uncle George. But more often than not, it was a time to play with the statue in the living room–“Johnny Get Your Gun”– or play Bride in the huge mirror standing between two windows. Again, the amount of minute detail I could offer up 33 years after the last time I stepped inside boggles my mind. (and I wasn’t taking photos yet, sadly.)
The upstairs of these houses is sketchy in my memory (but not as vague as the upstairs of Aunt Gene’s, where NO ONE was allowed to go) but I do recall the upstairs of Victory Blvd. At the top of the stairs was a bathroom. Palatial in size, the room had to have once been a bedroom. The toilet was on the far end and the floor slanted and the claw foot tub was on the opposite wall…Then there was a bedroom door, and then, the Attic Door.
Gifts of LOVE: Many may recognize my “Bride and Groom” from my wedding cake…the little Dutch couple, a gift from Aunt Marse, as were the angels and bunny. The red mirror was Cousin Viv’s, the embroidery Evelyn’s, the sewing basket belonged to my husband’s grandmother. The table cloth is from Mrs. Hayes, and yes, that really IS a toaster from Aunt Gene.
The attic steps was where Aunt Marse would take us on birthdays, and she would open the door, and bring out some manner of little treasure for us to have as a gift. (Oh, to have had a crack at that attic when they moved out. The old photographic negatives of Uncle Henri’s alone make me cry to know they were lost.)
These gifts were given because these aunts were loving, and did not necessarily have the means to be handing out $5.00 bills to every great niece or nephew that came along with a birthday. (Indeed, I don’t know if they did this with all the others.)
Sis gave me a turquoise ring on my 12th birthday, not from the stairs, but something that my grandmother gave her in 1927. It was the last gift she gave me before she died. Grandma was upset, because she was SURE I would lose it. It is on my finger to this day.
Cousin Vivienne gave me a wonderful little mirror that hung in her apartment. Aunt Gene gave me crochet work, photographs, my credenza and a fantastic old toaster (grudgingly, but that is a whole different story)
And cranky Mrs. Hayes from next door once gave me a lovely crocheted tablecloth.
Now, Aunt Gael and my mother-in-law Evelyn have continued this tradition.
Gael often gifts me with some trinket or other that she owned, and loved and cared for. Evelyn, knowing I quilt, gave me her mothers little sewing basket, and one Christmas, gifted everyone with embroidered pieces that over the years the women in the family created with their hands.
These gifts, whether made or simply loved by the person giving them, are more precious and should be considered of more value than any $25 gift card to Old Navy, on any gift giving occasion. The connection to family, to place, to tradition, these are the things that make the holidays ‘family times’, that create memories that the next generation passes on.
Cracked, glued, broken, valued. Loved.
(Happy Birthday to Thomas and my SIL Matt!)