Following the death, just yesterday at the age of 96, of my last—and adored—aunt, I searched for a collective noun for these relatives. It appears there isn’t one. I think we should start a universal trend and make it: A Blessing of Aunts.
I am sorry for those of you who didn’t have, or haven’t got, good ones. Mine have been fantastic. I loved them all. And the good aunts were not necessarily blood relations, though those were wonderful.
There was Aunt P(1), married to my father’s brother. They had three children within about three years, and my uncle went off to war, only to be killed in a flying accident when their youngest was just ten weeks old. Dad stepped in and did the uncle thing; we knew our cousins well. Aunt P(1) was a delight. She was of medium height, thin as a rake with the most glorious smile-lines, wavy-haired, scatterbrained, disorganised, poor as a church mouse and generous to a fault. I still have the beautiful cup and saucer she gave me for my twenty-first birthday. She died a while ago.
Aunt P(2) was Dad’s sister. Yes, it could have been confusing to anyone who didn’t know the two ladies who happened to live quite close to one another. This Aunt P(2) was as organised as the other P was not. She was little, feisty, possessed of an enviable sense of humour, artistic, rabidly right-wing (Reds Under the Bed was her mantra, Maggie Thatcher her idol), with soft white hair pulled back from her loving face, and pinned up. She, too, was wonderfully generous. Like us, she and her husband lived on a farm and we spent many happy times with them.
Aunt H was my mother’s sister. The siblings were chalk and cheese which sometimes led to interesting observations! Aunt H was the sort of woman everyone should be lucky enough to know—and preferably have as a relative. Wildly eccentric, a talented artist with paintings hung in notable galleries in southwest England, unconventional, a terrible cook, an appalling driver, and a chatterbox to boot. When she was old (late 80s) and still driving, and there were queues of traffic crawling along the little Wiltshire lanes, we knew a small white car would be leading them. She started the car in third gear, and drove it in the same gear to leave her home and complete her journey, only changing down to first when she arrived at her destination. She was tall, buxom, with prominent blue eyes and wispy grey hair, also pinned back in a bun. She was hugely affectionate and would smother us with kisses, presented with a loud ‘smack’ of her lips. She adored family and could tell you the name of your tenth cousin fifteen times removed. She had a vast circle of friends and acquaintances. She died about five years ago, and left me a most generous legacy, quite unexpected, and much treasured.
Aunt E was my husband’s aunt, his father’s only sister. She entered the Loreto order at the age of 18, undertook studies and became an English and art teacher. Before I met her I’d never met a nun—and especially not a Roman Catholic one, having been brought up and educated as C of E. I was intimidated for all of three seconds. Instantly there was an amazing connection between the two of us; we were lucky enough to have her living in the same city for about five years when she taught at Coorparoo in Brisbane. She was committed to her faith, open-minded, an advocate for social justice issues, and an excellent debater. She also had a wonderful shoulder on which to lean when necessary. When she died eight years ago, I wrote a piece for the family. It was suggested by a friend that I submit an abridged version to The Weekend Australian, which I did, and to my delight and surprise it was published in August 2012. I cherish the elegant and practical gifts this artistic woman gave me and think of her whenever I use her handmade bookmarks.
The final aunt was Aunt C. She lived an amazing life. She was born into a well-to-do family in England, and although she would have aced it, never went to university. Her brain was so sharp—even at the end—she used to do The Times cryptic crossword every day. She was widely- and well-read, she adored Dickens. She was also extremely musical and had an encylopædic knowledge of the subject, and of history. She’d have made an extraordinary teacher. She was always conscious of her appearance (not vain, you understand!) and regularly had her hair permed, applied her lipstick and powdered her nose. During WWII she was a driver with the ATS, she had some stories to tell! After the war she married my mother’s brother on his return from the Far East where he and my father were POWs on the Thai-Burma Railway and in Changi Prison. They lived in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) where he was a tea-planter. She lived a life we can now only read of and reared four gorgeous children, my much-loved cousins with whom I am very close. In the 1960s they emigrated to Australia and settled at Eagle Heights on Mt Tamborine, here in Queensland. Aunt C established a music group on the mountain for local children, although it’s grown now (http://www.tamborinemountainorchestra.com/) and she and my uncle worked tirelessly to foster a love of the bush. They regenerated a barren piece of paddock into a glorious park. After a sojourn in northern New South Wales, and following my uncle’s death, she moved to Sydney 17 years ago where she lived with one of my cousins until she died. She was affectionate, warm, loving, welcoming, gracious and adored. There is no-one I can think of who wasn’t instantly captivated by her. She influenced many of us and has left a lasting feeling of the goodness that can, and should, be. I will miss her so.
That is my Blessing of Aunts.