Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

Growing up, I had a lot of aunts. My mother had nine sisters, and was the baby of her family. My father had six sisters.

(My Aunt Mary Theresa (on right) with her best friend Mary Frances. Date unknown)

Aunt Mary T. lived in Detroit. When I was five, I was sent to live with her for some months while my father was ill with cancer. She was one of my favorite aunts, very young at heart, warm and loving. She would brush my hair every morning and put a drop of Vol De Nuit or Shalimar on my wrist. She'd pin a flower on my coat, and buy corsages for herself on a whim. We remained close until she passed away when I was sixteen.

Having so many nice aunts meant I was given many half-full bottles of perfume, bubble bath, and scores of dainty handkerchiefs. Some of my aunts began traveling and had a drawer full of hotel stationery and pens to give me whenever I visited. For some reason, none of my sisters were interested in any of these little "pre-owned" gifts.They'd usually finagle a cash gift so they could go to a movie and get away from "those people." I could understand that, but my aunts fascinated me the way the Samoans fascinated Margaret Mead. I couldn't get enough of them.

It seemed like once my maternal aunts had shed their husbands they were much happier people. Maybe a little quirky at times, but I enjoyed visits with them and studied how they lived. In some ways they were so old fashioned. They'd dress "to the nines" to go out for a quart of milk. But they did look good and could walk for miles in high heels. It was obvious they did not care how the rest of the world was behaving. They had a wide variety of friends and weren't judgemental. They'd say you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. They never dwelled on old hurts, and told me to take everything with a grain of salt.

Most of them have passed away, but I will never forget all the things they gave me. Not just the material things, like the old suitcase with Idlewild Airport tags still attached, packed with treasures, but all of the insight I got from just listening to them and watching them. They had excellent manners in public and only used bad language in the car -- I discovered that they knew every single bad word that existed. They sometimes had amusing stories to tell, or would share an adult joke with me. They laughed about terrible or embarrassing things that had happened to them years before, had wartime stories of working at the bomber plant or in Woolworths, proudly giving their paychecks to their mother, meeting boys at the dancehall. They often had me laughing and admiring their resilience. Auld Lang Syne... times long past.