In Praise of Aunts

First of all, let me start by saying that this post is not intended as a slight to uncles, who can be pretty awesome, too. I just happen to have aunts on my mind today because one of mine is approaching a milestone birthday. I'll tell you about her later in this post. First I want to highlight my great aunt Georgie. Though I never met this aunt of my mother's (she died before I was born), I am connected to her by an almost-naming. Let me explain.

I was born in the 1960s to an unwed teenage mother and was adopted by another family. My original birth certificate was legally sealed away until 2009, when the state of my birth changed the law to allow adoptees access to our original birth certificates. I now have a copy of that original birth certificate, and I know that the first and middle name spots are blank. Hospital protocol at the time prevented my mother from naming me. But if she had been allowed to give me a name -- even a temporary one -- it would have been "Georgia," after her favorite aunt.

What made Georgie so special? I'll let my mother explain that part. Here is Aunt Georgie in my mother's words:

Georgie was 15 years older than my mother, and was a "visiting nurse," much loved by people in York, especially country folks since she was the one who would show up to deliver the babies and handle emergencies.

I loved her dearly and spent as much time as I could with her, since she was the one person I knew who loved me unconditionally.

I would pretend I was sick at school if I knew mom was working, because the school would just call Georgie and I'd walk across the field to her house and be miraculously cured!

After Mamie was born, Georgie told me she didn't know anything about babies and I had to show her how to put on a diaper. My mother thought that was hysterical.

Everytime I went to her house, I could count on a shiny dime, a coke, and a Hershey bar. It was heaven.

Sadly, she died when I was 11. She is why is still don't like angels. First they took my dog Peter away, and then they took Georgie away (while I was at the movies having a good time watching Lady and the Tramp.)

I miss her still.

When I reunited with my biological maternal family as an adult, my mother's sister (the baby Georgie hadn't known how to diaper) was one of the first family members I met in person. At the time, my mother resided in a distant state, but my aunt and an uncle lived closer by. A few days before Christmas of 1995, on my way to my adoptive home for the holidays, I pulled into the driveway of my uncle's house. My aunt, his sister, was there as well. Her hair was a color similar to mine and cropped into an almost identical style. We were dressed in the same colors. We stared at each other all evening long. In my face, she saw my mother as well as aspects of my father's family. She noticed that I turned my hand a certain way when talking, a gesture I share with my mother. It was the first time I had experienced that kind of recognition, and something that had long been off-kilter in me clicked into its proper alignment as I saw myself reflected in her eyes.

I have remained friendly with this aunt through the years and have noticed that I tend to feel relaxed and happy in her presence. That initial recognition has lost its novelty yet retains its significance. When I am with my aunt I am at home. I am with one of my own. This past summer my aunt was struggling with some health issues and was not much in the mood for company, but when I called to say I was in town, she made an exception for me, her niece, and I am so glad. The enjoyable day my family spent with her and her husband out on their boat is one that stands out in my memory.

A few years ago a coworker of mine who had no children of her own but was devoted to her sister's children half apologized to me for her enthusiastic embrace of aunthood. "I know it must seem strange," she said. "After all, I'm just the aunt." I quickly assured her that there was no such thing a "just" an aunt in my book. I validated her importance in her niece and nephew's life, and she smiled with relief. "A lot of people don't get that," she said.

Melanie Notkin, author of the book Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids and founder of SavvyAuntie.com knows all about that. In an article published in the Huffington Post last year she wrote the following:

No matter what the relationship, blood or friendship, nearby or miles away, everything an aunt does for a child-not-her-own is a gift. Unlike parenting, there is no obligation to "aunt." But this Savvy Auntie, as I call her, is often overlooked and unacknowledged for all that she does. 

So today, in honor of my aunt's upcoming birthday and in honor of Georgia my almost-namesake, I raise up aunts. I'm expecting to meet more of my aunts in the near future; I have now reunited with my biological father as well and am soon to be introduce to his siblings. I say, bring it on. You can never have too much of a good thing, and aunts, in my experience, are a very good thing indeed. 

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