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a celebration of aunts on Mother’s Day

We don’t do much for Mother’s Day, calling it a Hallmark Card day. Anna is having a barbecue with her boys, as usual, and I’ll go over after a matinee at the opera. My longtime student Peg is in the chorus and let me in on a special ticket deal for this afternoon – $50 for Verdi’s Macbeth. A cheery way to spend the afternoon.

A big raccoon is making his sleepy way home along the fence. A scarlet cardinal at the feeder, lilac in full bloom, sparrows drinking from the pan nearby. How blessed is this fine morning.

I could dwell on being a mother, what it has meant to me, which is the world. But instead, I’d like to talk about the importance of women who are not mothers, but who provide invaluable love and support anyway: aunts or honorary aunts.

My Auntie Do was a constant in our family life. She was there in Oxford in 1944 when my mother met my father, and she was there in Edmonton in 1988 when Dad died. Dorothy was the middle daughter of three; my mother Sylvia and oldest sister Margaret denigrated her, but Mum relied totally on Do, who never failed to be there. She came to stay with us in Halifax in 1954 when my brother was born, and stayed nearly a year, providing childcare and much more. She went off to work in Goose Bay, Labrador — she was a superb personal assistant — and eventually married and divorced; she never had children. But she never missed a birthday or Xmas. Cards always arrived, usually apologizing for something. Do was always apologizing.

I figured out why. Sylvia and Margaret were both beautiful, very good at school, athletic. Mum was also musical and artistic. Do, it seemed, was none of those things. She was bright but not academic, not as strong and competitive as Mum, not musical. Mum was her father’s favourite, and Margaret was her mother’s. Do was no one’s favourite.

She told me a story once. She was working as personal secretary to Mr. Booth, who was himself the secretary to the head of the huge J. Lyons and Company, a vast enterprise in England. It was a big job and she fulfilled it with her usual excellence, even going on weekends, driven by his chauffeur, to Mr. Booth’s country house to work for him. One day, he told her he admired and needed her, and proposed. He said he would demand nothing of her but was desperate to marry her, to keep her close. He was a very wealthy man, and elderly.

She turned him down. What would his children have thought of me? she asked me.  Who cares? I said.

Her life was not unhappy, but it was not happy. Her marriage did not work out, but he made sure she had enough to live on, and in any case, she was so thrifty, her needs were few. She ended up living in a small sunny apartment on the outskirts of Ottawa; my widowed mother eventually bought a condo, of course much bigger, in the next building. There was an underground passage between the two, much used, almost entirely by Do. Every time my mother had a health event, which was often,  usually in the middle of the night, Do came to the hospital with her.

After Mum died, I went 3 or 4 times a year to Ottawa; Anna came several times with the boys. I weep now as I think of her. Fiercely independent, she lived alone with no help until just a few months before she died, at the age of 98. After her death, as I was clearing out her apartment, I found a suitcase full of books about how to paint, and some lovely drawings she’d made. She obviously wanted to draw and paint, but my mother was the artist.

Auntie Do was a vital part of our family. I honour her today, and all those superb women, including for us our dear Holly, who are so important to us all. Who was/is that woman in your family life?

Do as a young woman.

Admiring the painting Eli made for her. Much of her furniture went to Anna and Sam.

With my Cousin Barbara who’d flown up from Washington; she’s holding Do’s teddy bear, Edward Bruin Green, outfitted in clothes Do knitted for him when very young. She knitted and sewed clothes for me too, for my dolls, for Anna’s dolls.

We took her to the Chateau Laurier for high tea. As you can see, she almost never took off that t-shirt.

Meeting Ben for the first time.

You don’t have to be a mother to matter deeply. Thank you for everything in our nearly fifty years together, beloved Do.

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6 Responses to “a celebration of aunts on Mother’s Day”

  1. Anonymous says:

    On behalf of child free women everywhere, thank you.

  2. beth says:

    You're welcome.

  3. Anonymous says:

    That photograph of your Aunt Do in her red gown — she was beautiful…

  4. That was a lovely tribute to aunts, and I thank you! I'm an aunt (Tata) to four kids in Lille and it's been – it still is – a pleasure. The youngest boy who just turned 11 (I believe he's the same age as your eldest grandson) has discovered emailing. And lately I've been the happy recipient of his missives. In answer to his recent email below, I replied that it's VERY HOT in Spain in the summer, and most people go to the beach, swim in the sea and eat ice cream.

    Bonsoir, tâta juju, je voudrais savoir qu'est que on pourra faire en Espagne ?? Ou peut-être moi je choisirait. J'espère déjà que tu vas bien voilà c'était juste pour ça et pour te passer un bonsoir ??

  5. beth says:

    Tata Juju – adorable! Eli is turning eleven on Sunday. A wonderful age, just before the nightmare of teenagerdom.

  6. beth says:

    Yes, she was, though that was a young aunt I never knew. Unfortunately she had so little confidence in herself. But she was superb at many things, including sewing and Scrabble.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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