When I was 12 or 13 years old, my Aunt Lynn bought me my first Sweet Valley High book at the Glendale Shopping Mall in Indy. Of course, I had been reading long before then – with Mom being a teacher, it was difficult to escape reading in our house. Each trip meant not only the promise of 4 or 5 new books from her, but also involved a lengthy, carefully curated process by me. I would browse the shelves excitedly, select only the most pristine copies, and carry them to the register secure in the knowledge that my aunt loved me very much indeed. Thus began our shared love of books and literature and reading and writing that continues to this day. And that happy memory – visiting a bookstore with my aunt – is one I’ve grown to cherish above many others from my childhood.
That’s the way Aunts (or Aunties, as I like to call my Auntie Lynn now :)) should be: a role model of the best kind, one who embodies the same values as the parent, but who can also be a true friend. One who loves unconditionally and can do so without ever being the bad guy. I’m fortunate. My mom was blessed with two sisters – my Auntie Lynn and my Aunt Jayne – and they have both been integral to my development as a person. Their influence in my life is far-reaching and continues to this day.
Besides bookstores, I share a love of old movies with my Aunt Lynn. Jayne and I are completely mad about dogs. We all three love to shop, for shoes especially. I’ve spent numerous nights with them in their homes… everything from putting on fashion shows with my Glamour Gals as a 10-year-old to fine dining and drinking wine as an adult. Lynn taught me to play cards. Jayne encouraged me to taste new foods. When I finally got my learner’s permit in high school, Lynn let me drive her car when no one else would. I admire my Aunt Jayne as a strong example of what women can accomplish in their careers. And neither one of my aunts had children, so it has always seemed – to me, at least – perfectly normal (and acceptable) to contemplate a life without kids.
Aunties are the best, really. I should know after all; I’m an auntie myself now. :) Six times over. Three times in the last three months (!). Five nephews and one niece: Abbi, Rusty, Emmett, the twins Hayden and Parker, and the newest Everett. The whole Aunt Mary Beth thing? I find it’s a role that suits me well. It never gets old, and I dearly love it.
Being an auntie affords you the best of all worlds. You can be the cool aunt, the exemplary role model, the wise mentor, or the goofball extraordinnaire. You might be the pseudo-parent-when-the-kids-hate-their-own-parents or the procurer-and-purchaser-of-items-your-mom-refuses-to-buy-you. You are the encourager, cheerleader, less-evil disciplinarian, and mother figure. The big sister, teacher, confidante, and friend.
And so, I take my role as an Auntie seriously too, because I know the lasting impression it can have. Now that Mom is gone, I feel like there is a gaping hole and I have to sorta fill in for her too. While I’ll never be as good as a grandma (that’s a whole other post, right?), it’s a hole I’m happy to fill. I want to be the kind of person my aunts were to me: engaging, smart, patient, fun, and above all else, loving.
For the last several years, I’ve made it a top priority to visit my Aunt Jayne, wherever she lives in the country at the time. Right now, she’s in Texas. I go there to recuperate… from work, from the world, from the craziness, even from the memories of Mom that sometimes overwhelm me. Again, just as I’ve always felt my whole life, the unconditional love and unspoken understanding are ever-present. She and my Aunt Lynn both are like my mother in many ways, and when I’m around them, I feel like Mom is there too. But it’s more than just that – they are also my friends. And they are part of that internal history – the history of ME – that I’m afraid is slowly being forgotten now that Mom is gone. So I try to hang on to every thread and scrap that I can.
I’ll be at Aunt Jayne’s home in a few weeks, and I can’t wait. I think that’s what has eaten away at me the most about Mom’s passing… the intangible support, the constant stability, the secure knowledge that my family will be there for me: those have been yanked right out from under me, shaken up and rearranged quite a bit. And I struggle mightily with that. I need this vacation to reconnect and to remember all the good things I still have in my life – like my two wonderful aunts. And to not forget how lucky I’ve been.