Last week, Stewart, Max and I drove to the suburbs of Philadelphia to attend the funeral of my Aunt Beth -- my mom’s younger and only sibling. After the service, we went back to my Uncle Jack’s house, where the family gathered to reminisce about the memories we all have of her. Driving home after that emotional day, I recalled my own relationship with Aunt Beth, that began when I was just a kid.
As far back as I can remember, I was always fond of my aunt. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it as a kid, but in retrospect I really liked the way she was somehow able to be direct and witty while at the same time exuding an unassuming and accepting personality that put people at ease. Let me try to give you some examples of what I am talking about.
I have one particular favorite story that perfectly captures Aunt Beth’s direct and witty side. One day, when I was 11 years old or so, I was spending time with my aunt at her home looking at family photographs. I innocently asked her why my mother looked younger than she did in the photos when my mom was actually the older sibling by a couple of years. (Please understand that I hadn’t yet acquired all of the graceful tact that you all know I now possess.) My aunt replied, “That’s easy. It’s because your mother dyes her hair and your grandmother Augusta does good touch up work on her photographs!” As a little kid I was shocked that my mom dyed her hair, and absolutely delighted to be made privy to this family secret! From then on I knew that I had one cool aunt in my Aunt Beth. I have told this story to my mom repeatedly over the years to tease her, and she always responds the same way: “That’s your aunt Beth!”
|Mom (l) with her sister, my Aunt Beth (r)|
While perhaps less exciting, what I hold dear even more about my aunt are my memories of her warm, embracing side. My family photo story comes from one of the handful of times that I got to visit Aunt Beth at her house over some of my school vacations when I was a tween. As I mentioned in a prior post, since I am the youngest child in my family by a fairly wide margin, I did not have any cousins to play with growing up, unlike the rest of my siblings. So I cherished my trips to see Aunt Beth. They made me feel special because I had my very own place to go and my own family member to visit.
It is weird now though to realize that I would visit her for an entire week. It doesn’t seem like it now, and I can’t remember any particular conversations we had together during those visits other than my photo story. While I doubt that our conversations ran very deep, my Aunt Beth was a very easy person to be around and I certainly know that enjoyed talking with her. At a point in my life when I didn’t always feel that I related to my peers, and felt vulnerable around them, I felt very safe with my Aunt Beth. She was very attentive, and also had the time to spend with me. When I started visiting her, her oldest kids were already out of the house, and her youngest was a senior in high school who was busy with her own life, so my aunt was free to become my companion. My favorite memories of those visits are playing game after game of scrabble with Aunt Beth, with frequent breaks for ice cream! In fact, my Aunt Beth was a Scrabble maestro. I don’t ever remember winning a game against her during those visits. So what possessed me to keep playing so many games, knowing that I would go down in defeat? I really enjoyed the game, and I was good at it for my age. My grandmother Sadie had taught me how to play, and I liked continuing that tradition with my aunt. Besides, there wasn’t anyone else at the time who would indulge me in playing back-to-back games like she did!
By the time I was in ninth grade, my visits with my aunt ended. Maybe I felt that I was getting too old to be visiting my aunt over school break, I’m not sure. I am sure though that I loved those visits while they lasted, and they helped get me through those difficult middle school years. Afterwards, I still saw my aunt a couple of times a year, and made sure that we played Scrabble every Thanksgiving.
Traditions like these have gained new importance in my life now that I’m a parent. When Max is old enough, I look forward to teaching him how to play scrabble and to playing many family games with him and Stewart. Max will also have his Aunt Paula and Uncle David, both avid scrabble players -- plus many other family members -- to play games with, whether it be on school vacation or over family holidays. My hope for Max is that, like me, when he is an adult he will look back fondly on his childhood bonds with the adults in his family’s life who are always there to support and encourage us.