Monday, December 10, 2012
When I called to talk with my youngest nieces a couple of weeks ago, seven year-old Gretchen and I talked, and then Gretchen called her older sister Lucie to the phone. Lucie was slow in coming, and I heard Gretchen yell, “Lucie! It’s someone important!...It’s Auntie Mary!” Bless her.
As Gretchen and I talked, I asked her what the best part of Thanksgiving had been. She didn't hesitate: "Seeing Isabella."
Isabella’s Gretchen fairy princess…and her seventeen year-old cousin.
I said, "Yeah, Isabella's the best" and she followed with, "You are, too, Auntie Mary."
I thought we were going to talk about something else, but Gretchen interrupted me: "And Aunt Ann. Aunt Ann's the best, too."
We may be the best, but Gretchen is for sure the most thoughtful. And she’s a talented dancer and singer. (Finally, someone got Mom’s amazing voice!) She’s funny, too, not in the way that little kids are funny because they’re little but in the way that adults are funny when they’re clever.
I love having nieces.
Isabella is my oldest niece. She’s beautiful and smart, and she’s so kind that you can’t hate her for it. Plus, her hero is Gloria Steinem. Can’t beat that.
My favorite moment with Isabella was probably when she and her brothers Jack and Sam were in elementary school. Little Willie was in pre-school.
Ann and I played the Game of Life with the group of them, and Willie needed help so he sat in my lap, and we played as a team.
When Willie landed on “Get Married,” Isabella asked him, “Would you like two pinks, two blues, or a pink and a blue?” Then she flashed her dimples at Ann and me.
I’m not sure that Lucie and Gretchen were even born yet, but now my niece Lucie is nine years old. A couple of years ago, as soon as we all arrived at the beach house where we would stay for the week, Lucie jumped in the pool wearing all of her clothes.
When she came upstairs, I said to her, “I’ll give you $5 if you jump in again.” Her eyes lit up, and she ran off. When she returned, her mother Kristin had joined us, and frowned to see drenched Lucie in her dripping clothes. Gretchen said, “Aunt Mary told her to.”
I just smiled sheepishly and shrugged: aunties don’t have to be responsible for good behavior.
Lucie and I are writing a book together. I’m sworn to secrecy, so I can’t tell you what it’s about, but it’s going to be good.
We started by brainstorming characters and plot together.
Right now, to generate more ideas and to help us think about style and structure, we’re studying Sharon Flake’s The Skin I’m In. Each week we read two chapters on our own and then we talk about what we noticed and what ideas the chapters give us for our book.
I proposed the idea of writing together so that we could get to know one another from opposite coasts, but it turns out that Lucie is a natural, and the thinking together is super-fun.
I love being an aunt, and I love having aunts.
Aunt Ben was my favorite great aunt. She taught first or second grade for over forty years, so she knew about kids. She didn’t try to make us be good children. She just spoiled us and enjoyed us. Each year at the beach, she gave us quarters so that we could play Astroids, an early generation video game, at the arcade.
Aunt Ben had as many wrinkles as would fit in her skin. When she laughed, her blue eyes twinkled, and she threw back her head so that we could see all of her dentures.
Aunt Ben was my grandmother’s senior by quite a few years. Grandmother was the baby sister, and she and Aunt Ben were close. Once, when Dad and I were visiting Grandmother at her home in Spring Hope, North Carolina, Aunt Ben visited.
The two started telling stories about the old days and laughing so hard that they couldn’t speak. One would say, “Then Lola…” and the two would crack up, little tears forming in the corners of their eyes; they were laughing so hard they gasped for air. They didn’t have to finish the sentences: each knew what the other was talking about. Dad and I didn’t know the stories, but we recognized the joy and laughed along.
Aunt Ben’s given name was “Magnolia,” a good Southern girl’s name. Grandmother nicknamed her “Ben puttin’ it off” after an early 20th century cartoon figure who, like Aunt Ben, procrastinated. The name was shortened to “Ben,” and it stuck.
Great Aunt Ben was a joyful woman. Now my nieces love another great aunt. Their Great Aunt Susan loves them and spoils them, just like Great Aunt Ben spoiled us.
Aunt Susan is just twelve years older than I am, and she has always been young at heart. When Cousin Lori and I were in college, Aunt Susan took us out on the town. This was three days before my 21st birthday. We went to a bar, and the bouncer was going to let me and Lori in, but he carded Aunt Susan, so he carded all of us. No mercy. We had to go.
Another time, some college friends were over at Aunt Susan’s with me, and Aunt Susan offered us white wine—in a Styrofoam cup. I just couldn’t drink it. It seemed too much like a urine sample.
Aunt Mary Ann is closer to my mom’s age and is the mother to my cousins Lori, Jeff, and Kenny, so she and I have never gone out on the town.
Aunt Mary Ann’s the family storyteller. She seems to know a lot of family history that Mom’s forgotten or never knew, and she has a Faulknerian style. Like when I read Faulkner, I don’t always know what’s happening or where the story’s headed, but I’m always glad I stuck with it.
Mom’s youngest sister, Aunt Cindy, is sixteen years younger than Mom and just seven years older than I am. She’s an artist who makes her money as a stockbroker (or something like that), and—bless her—she’s a Democrat.
On my Dad’s side of the family is another Democrat, my aunt Myra. I was named Mary for both of my grandmothers and my Aunt Mary Ann. I figure I was also named for Aunt Myra, since Mary is just Myra scrambled up a little, and I figure Aunt Myra and I are probably the most alike: like I am, she’s a reader, worked with many poor people in education, and she leans hard to the left even when the winds not blowing.
I loved it when Aunt Myra came to visit when I was a kid. She always gave me big bear hugs, and when my dad came in the room, rolled his eyes, and groaned, she called him “Archie” (from the sit com “All in the Family”) and kept hugging me.
I love my nephews and uncles, too, but there are just too many to write about in one blog, so for today I’m just writing about the ladies.
I’d like to be the kind of aunt for my nieces that my aunts are for me: women who don’t try to improve me but just love me and give me ideas of some of the many ways of being a woman in this world.