By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I’ve been diving for treasure! Which means I finally pulled out the boxes from under my desk and started going through the articles, photographs, scribbles, and other items set aside for “some day” projects. Much of it is going straight into the circular file, but here and there I’ve found something worth keeping.
This is how I rediscovered a treasure called The Complete Book of Aunts, a little book by Rupert Christiansen with Beth Brophy that celebrates brand name aunts (Jemima), X-rated (Gigi’s Alicia), those who helped raise their siblings’ children (when Coco Chanel was orphaned at age 6, her aunts took her in and taught her how to sew), and many others real and imagined (Spider-Man’s Aunt Rosemary).
In addition to historical factoids (“auntie” meant “prostitute” in pre-18th century India), there are tips for good auntie-ing and delightful quotes, such as this gem from Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther:
(Aunt Hetty) “What on earth d’you think I’m here for, I should like to know?”
To be a pattern and example to all aunts, thought Mrs. Miniver; to be a delight to boys and a comfort to their parents; to show that at least one daughter in every generation ought to remain unmarried [and to] raise the profession of auntship to a fine art.
I’m not keen on the “ought to remain unmarried” part, but “raise the profession of auntship to a fine art”—doncha love that?!
Many of us have the pleasure of being aunties, and because we aren’t responsible for little darlings of our own, we’re free to lavish our attentions on our nieces and nephews. I must be doing a decent job because the inscription on the title page, signed by a beloved sister-in-law, reads “Behind every niece or nephew is a ‘great aunt.’” It is nice to know my efforts are appreciated, although I freely admit that I nurture these special relationships because they make my heart sing.
Whether you’re called auntie, tante, tia, shagazi, or an honorary term of your own making, I hope you are finding joy in practicing this fine art too.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is wrapping up her memoir about being a temporary single mommy and how it helped her come to terms with being childfree.