“Hey Shelley, watch this!” exclaimed my Aunt Margie as she twisted her hips all the way down to the floor and up again.
“Impressive!” I cheered back.
Margie and I were on the dance floor at my niece’s wedding, trading moves, showing off.
I love my Aunt Margie. She has always been a joyful, generous person, an entertaining storyteller, and someone deeply interested in our family history. She is the daughter of Martha, my Great Grandmother, and younger sister to my Grandmother, Sylvia.
I never knew Martha, because she passed away before I was born, but from all the stories, she was a woman I would have liked. She kept a fifth of “medicine” in the drawer of her dresser, grew herbs, and practiced cupping, a controversial and alternative healing practice. I have always been drawn to both the controversial and alternative, especially when it comes to health matters, so I believe I inherited these attractions from Martha.
I did know Sylvia, and I miss her. She loved to giggle, discuss politics, play the organ, and gather everyone around a table for coffee and cookies. She taught me to play “Greensleeves” and “Heart and Soul.” She encouraged me to keep my complexion clean with Noxema or Ivory soap. My grandma wore the most adorable pill box hats and cute little pumps. I know I inherited my love of coffee, political talk, music, vintage hats, and Mary Jane’s from Sylvia.
Throughout my life, my Aunt Margie has encouraged me to be to make healthy choices, be brave and giving, and laugh my way through life.
I had a special opportunity to visit her when I was thirteen. I flew from Wisconsin to her home in Florida. Back then, I was brave on planes but terrified of water. Margie encouraged me to get into her pool and try swimming, and I did it! I still remember how scary and thrilling it felt to let go, trust my body, and let the water hold me. Getting over this fear and embracing the weightlessness of water has proven to be a saving grace for me. When I’m swimming, my arthritis is less painful. I owe this to my Aunt.
She encouraged me not to chew gum. As a 13-year-old who attended Catholic school, where gum was strictly forbidden, I was hesitant to surrender my new freedom. Margie told me I needed to quit by the time I was eighteen, because it wasn’t good for my teeth and jaw, and I didn’t look lady like. I naturally resisted at first, but on my 18th birthday, I did think about it, and I cut down. I still chewed a bit of Big Red in my early 30s, (it was a party time for me and the flavor complemented the drinks), but by my mid 30s, I had quit completely. I owe this smart decision to Margie’s direct deadline. My teeth and jaw thank her.
On that same visit, true to her generous nature, Margie took me shopping. Among other things, she bought me two shirts- a red one and a multi-color striped one. I loved that both shirts had 3/4 length sleeves (still my favorite sleeve length) and boat neck collars (still one of my favorite necklines) and of course, I absolutely loved the little barefoot logo, on the left, just below my collarbone. Hang Ten! I was cool in those shirts, thanks to Margie.
I’m a storyteller thanks to her too. At a recent family dinner, of the most delicious Cuban food ever (yes, she’s a great cook), Margie shared a story from her mother. Martha was trying to warn her about sex.
“So she turns to me, looks me in the eyes, and says, ‘Margie, whatever you do, don’t thread the needle.’”
We all started laughing, and I asked my Aunt, “What do you think she meant?”
Margie laughed and shrugged, “To this day, I have no idea. I mean, was I supposed to be the needle or the thread?”
And we all laughed again. Martha is my personal Mary Magdalen, a strong woman with many mysteries attached to her story. I love that I get to learn more about her through my Aunt.
Margie has always been an active person, a golfer, a walker-along-the-beach, a-walker-for-charity, and a dancer. On many occasions, she’s inspired me to shake it, so when the music started at Hannah’s wedding, I knew we would have a good time. Margie’s skill at The Twist prompted a younger groomsman to slide over and dance with her. My mom was shaking it, along with her good friend, Mary, and my cousin, Susan. We were a circle of dancing fools! Susan was adorable as she danced too. Right before Whitney Houston was about to belt the chorus to her infamous song, my cousin yelled, “Get ready, Ladies!” and we all belted out “I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the heat with somebody!” This love of dancing has also proven to be helpful with arthritis, so I keep my dancing shoes close. When I move, I feel better. Curtsy and a bow to you, Aunt Margie.
All of my aunts have played special roles in my life and each of them deserves their own post or poem. I intend to write these individualized pieces, but for now, I’ll include a quick thank you list:
Aunt Barbie, thank you for turning me on to the joys of rummage sales, inspiring me to drink English breakfast tea. Thank you for your children, my beautiful cousins, and for keeping me aware of the antics of your little grandchildren, my second cousins. Most of all, thank you for your letters that still come to my mailbox. Honoring this art form of handwritten thoughts on paper is very important to me…thank you.
Aunt Mary (Nighbor), thank you for teaching me how make homemade donuts and at the same time encouraging me to brush my teeth. Thank you for your children, my beautiful cousins, and for telling me secrets about my mom and her car named Bowser. Most of all, thank you for sharing your research on our extended family. Hearing these stories and understanding our connections to Europe means everything to me…thank you.
Aunt Darlene, thank you for teaching me about strength and patience through all the love you’ve quietly and selflessly given to my Poet Uncle and all of my beautiful cousins. Thank you for being an example of a woman who can fish (and possibly “out fish” all the boys). Most of all, thank you for also being at the bottom of the stairs smiling when I jumped…you were there too, I remember…thank you.
Aunt Sue, thank you for taking me out for good ol’ Wisconsin fried fish and soft serve ice cream, offering me wine coolers on a hot, summer day, and most of all, for loving my Uncle David as deeply as you do…thank you.
Aunt Linda, thank you for sharing our country home, loving my beautiful cousins, especially in times of scary illnesses, and most of all, thank you loving my harmonica-playing, fish-story-telling Uncle Paul…thank you.
Aunt Deb, thank you for your sense of humor and honesty. I don’t know if you’ll remember this or not, but years ago, you and I had a conversation at your kitchen table about family, and your thoughts were a bit controversial. I immediately respected you at that moment. Thank you for my beautiful cousins, and most of all, for loving my guitar-strumming, made- mud pies- with- me-while-I-was-in-my-cast, Uncle Chuck…thank you.
Aunt Mary (Seaman), thank you for sharing your intelligence and political views with Benjamin and me over meals in D.C. and for caring about international students as deeply as I do. Thank you for having the focus to get your Masters and Doctorate degrees, and inspiring me to reach for higher goals. Thank you for my beautiful cousin, Luke, and most of all, for loving my crazy, show-me-how-to-shake-my-tail feather Uncle Godfather Chuck…thank you.
And to my Aunts who have passed away:
Aunt Beatsie, thank you for your generosity, your home, where playing with all of my beautiful cousins was like being in a fun house. There were so many toys and games, volleyball in the backyard, always something fun to do! Your house was filled with music and joy, and most of all, kittens, kittens, kittens! Thank you for the love you showed Uncle Marty and your entire family. You always made me feel welcome… thank you.
Aunt Jude, thank you for supporting me when I said I wanted to be a horticulturalist by giving me my first potted plant. Thank you for giving me the book Heidi, so I could dream of the Swiss Alps and what it would be like to have a goat. Most of all, thank you for encouraging me to play the organ in church. Even though I was terrified of messing up, and the organ wasn’t as fun as the piano, I learned about musical performance, and now I know that those nervous jitters are normal…thank you.
Aunt Ruth, thank you for checking out my apartment for me before I moved to Chicago, especially for taking pictures of the tree outside my window. Thank you for the time we spent in Chicago together, the visits to meet you students were precious and being at the convent was funny, mostly because I was in heels and one of your fellow sisters said I was a skyscraper. Thank you for sneaking my friend Dan into the convent and not making a big deal about it. Most of all, thank you for the gorgeous Lady of Czestochowa palm leaf collage. You understood my love of Polish art, my need to connect to it as part of my heritage…thank you.
I looked up the word aunt. Along with the traditional definition, I discovered some funny associations. Apparently, we are gossips, (ok, I’ll accept this because everybody is a gossip) procuresses, (neither my aunts nor I have ever run a brothel, so I reject this one) and benevolent women (this one I accept as 100% true).
I’ve been an Aunty for 23 years, and I think I’ve been a pretty good one, at least I hope this is how my niece and nephew think of me. When I think about Hannah and Blake, I tear up joyfully, because they’ve changed my life for the better.
Being an Aunt is an honor. It’s mystical.
The Swedes have two words for Aunt- Moster (for the mother’s side) and Faster (for the father’s side). These words make me think of a witchy woman running through the woods, playing hide-and-seek or tag with her nieces and nephews. In a way, all aunts are a faster mo(n)sters, running after kids, helping mothers and fathers with the job of raising children.
So pat yourselves on the back, witches! Well done! Oh, and Aunt Matriarch Margie, don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite monster.
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