Mother’s Day is two weeks from now and Father’s Day will follow in June, but it seems to me that aunts and uncles get no public applause. I had wonderful aunts and uncles while I grew up. Sadly, most of them have passed on, except my Aunt Pat who will celebrate her 90th birthday this year. I dearly loved my aunts and uncles, though I didn’t see them as often as I would have liked. My father was in the services so we moved around a lot, but when we did visit family we were treated royally and loved a lot. Consequently, not withstanding the unfriendly or unsavoury family member, I think aunts and uncles are very important influences in a child’s life.
My Grand-aunt Ada, a maiden aunt, lived with my father’s parents in a yellow brick house in southern Ontario. She was a dear soul, a devout Christian, who wore her heart on her sleeve, her apron and everywhere else. Whenever we arrived at the door, she would be the first person to greet us with big hugs and when we left she waved us off with tears in her eyes. It seemed to me that Aunt Ada wore her apron most of the time. She was forever helping to prepare our meals, washing dishes and tidying up, but now and then she would sit and talk to me.
I was fascinated by the old house, especially the parlour with its heavy velvet curtained doorway, quaint lamps and old photographs of my father’s grandfather’s family. Aunt Ada was the oldest of the girls and she helped to bring up her brothers and sisters. She would tell me the stories of the family: who had married, who had died and who had gone to college. She told me about how five of the family members had been drowned in a steamboat disaster. She herself had gone out west to be a mother’s helper for a settler’s wife. They spent the first year or two in Manitoba living in a sod hut until a proper house could be built. Aunt Ada was engaged to a rancher there who sadly died of a heart attack before they were married. Eventually, she was called back home to nurse her sick mother. Aunt Ada spent her life working for others. She had a head for numbers (genes I didn’t inherit) and kept the books for one of her brothers who had a corner store. She spent her final years looking after her brother-in-law after my grandmother died.
I loved listening to Aunt Ada’s stories. Grandma seemed to think I’d be bored, but not so. I would pepper Aunt Ada with questions that she patiently answered. At night, I slept in her bedroom on a cot under the window. After she brushed out her long white hair, read her bible and said her prayers we would talk until I fell asleep.
I was named after my Aunt Pat, my father’s sister. My dad always called her Princess and she was just a teenager when he joined the navy and went off to war. She sang in the choir at church and was a wonderful athlete (more genes I did not inherit). She used to bowl with her dad and later she played golf, rode horses and curled. She married a fighter pilot who had been shot down over France and spent three months of the war under the floor of a French barn with another flier and being cared for by a family of resistance fighters.
Aunt Pat and Uncle Fred moved out west and bought a ranch where they kept horses and donkeys. Uncle Fred was a cigar-smoking company owner who was very generous. He was the kind of person who would treat everyone to dinner, order a large steak so no one would be intimidated by the menu prices and not eat more than three bites himself. When he gave you advice, you listened, but he knew how to laugh and enjoy a good time. He and my aunt were very civic-minded and had many good friends. He seemed to know everyone, but he still had time to sit and play cards with a visiting niece or take her for a ride in his donkey cart. Uncle Fred also had an interest in art, especially water colours. He paid my way out west so that I could paint a picture of their home and I sent him five views so that he could have a choice. Instead he had all five framed.
My mother’s sister, my Aunt Georgie, grew up with my mother and her brother in St. John’s, Nfld. She taught for awhile in one of the outports and then she became a lab technician in Montreal where she met her husband, a doctor. I was a bit intimidated by Uncle Bob, because he was a very serious man and treated people with serious illnesses, but he was never too busy to check up on a child with a bad headache or a sore tummy. My brother can attest to that because, thanks to Uncle Bob’s diligence ,my brother’s sore tummy was quickly diagnosed as an appendicitis attack and swiftly treated.
Aunt Georgie’s passion was collecting art and going to auctions. She had the most wonderful set of art books which I pored over on every visit. Well into her seventies, she went back to University and got an art history degree. She also had an amazing collection of old pewter plates and cups which she had found at auctions over the years. We loved visiting their home in Montreal. It was a huge warm home with the most interesting nooks and crannies. It also had a wonderful library of children’s books and I am a voracious reader. When I wasn’t playing with my cousins, I was curled up in a corner reading.
Uncle Gordon, mother’s brother became a legend in our family. We never had the chance to get to know him, because he was a bomber pilot who was shot down over the North Sea while flying back to England. He was twenty-three and greatly admired by his crew and all his friends. We only knew him through stories told by my mother and aunt, but my brother, one of our sons, our grandson and two nephews have his name as part of theirs. He is gone, but certainly not forgotten.
Now as I watch our children bringing up their children and see how much the grandchildren enjoy the relationship with their aunts and uncles, I appreciate even more the way my aunts and uncles enriched my family life. They embraced me with the feeling of belonging and being loved that every child needs.