Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Aunt

The Aunt

It was a winter wedding, the very best kind, and I was attending alone because The Songwriter was out of town. Ushered into the splendid reception hall, I spied her, sitting beside my uncle at the round flower-filled table in the middle of the room. There was my seat, I could see it empty and waiting, beside her. This particular aunt had always been a bit of a mystery to me - a mystery still unsolved, for I rarely saw her. Straight-backed and starchy, she seemed to wear her propriety like a well-earned badge of honour on a cloak of unwavering religiousity that appeared, at least to me, to preclude any type of whimsy or fun. But this was a wedding reception, I told myself. Surely she’d be a bit more relaxed in this festive setting.

I squared my velvet-suited shoulders and headed her way.

Hello, Aunt J”, I said, giving her a hug and sitting down.

We exchanged a few pleasantries about the beauty of the wedding and I picked up the golden-edged menu that lay by my plate.

“Ooh, pink champagne”, I exclaimed.

We Don’t Drink”, came the instantaneous reply, delivered like an edict from on high, stern and autocratic, each word capitalized and underlined in invisible red.

I decided to have a bit of fun.

You don’t?”, I asked, in what I hoped was a tone of pure innocence. “Oh, but you should! Now let’s see, you’d probably not like sherry or port. Too strong for your palate if you’re just starting out. Although those can be incredibly delicious on a cold winter’s night. But now, pink champagne! I just know you’d love that! You simply must try some when it’s served!”


I could tell by her look of surprise that she thought I had missed her point entirely. It was not simply that she’d never gotten around to having a drink, for Pete’s sake. It was that she did not approve of the practice. How could she make this clear to me?

She began to elaborate her position, just as I noticed the tuxedoed band in the corner, beginning to tune up.

“How wonderful!”, I said with a grin. “There’s going to be dancing!”

“Your uncle and I Do Not Dance”, she sputtered, her face colouring with emotion.

“Oh, but you should!”, I said with a smile, feeling ever so evil but enjoying myself far too much to care. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not, everybody’s just having fun. And I know you’d both love it. What a handsome figure you’d cut on the dance floor! And it’s such excellent exercise. You must try it tonight. No arguments!”

I batted my eyes in her direction and noticed to my great surprise - barely visible, but there nonetheless - an infinitesimal smile beginning to play around the corners of her pursed lips. Apparently, somewhere, deep down deep in her corseted soul, a bit of fun still lurked. She was on to me. And then, my soul, there it was. A grin. A genuine grin. From that moment on we chatted about everything, becoming fast friends before the evening wore down.

We stayed in touch after that wedding, exchanging Christmas cards and visits. She and my uncle even drove miles to hear The Songwriter in concert, my uncle leading the standing ovation at the close of the show.

These days it seems there are chasms that yawn between so many of us. We look across at one another, unsure of the best way to construct a passable, plausible bridge. Far too often I fear we simply retreat, preferring to remain in our more familiar climate where we’re comfortably surrounded by those who applaud our views and beliefs.

I could have easily stiffened at the implied judgment of my aunt that evening we were seated together at the wedding reception. Chilled by her provincial opinions , I could have chosen to maintain a polite, perfunctory silence and the night would have passed by pleasantly enough, I suppose. Instead, as is so often the case, a wee bit of humour was all that was needed to weaken her established defenses and allow us to forge a friendship in the few years remaining before she passed away.

I am grateful I made the effort.


I thought I'd better clarify.

The above photograph is certainly not my aunt.

It's Mamie Eisenhower.

However, the countenance is strikingly similar.


  1. Oh, this is Brilliant... Thank you for sharing it.
    I have your "box of doves" on my table as I write.
    Dear soul,
    we may not see one another often,
    but you are always in my heart.

  2. Hello Pamela

    You brought joy to your Aunt and no doubt she loved it. It is wonderful that you had a good friendship with her in the latter years of her life.

    A great post


  3. Happiliy, we are family of aunties who love to cook, party, dance, sing, drink, play the mouth-harp etc well into our 90's! My nieces say we love to party, and they are right!!! love this post!! Cheers~

  4. Humour...a beautiful bridge across any chasm.

  5. Hello Pamela:
    How right you are that we must not fear to cross bridges and enter the unknown, for often there are riches indeed to be found and treasured. Chasms cannot be traversed in small jumps, adventurous leaps are needed!!

    This is such a joyful post. So wonderful that you were able to grow closer to your Aunt in the last years of her life. The photograph is stunning!

  6. Bravo Pamela - a good lesson and timely reminder with Christmas on the horizon. Love the Mamie photo. Just read her biography and visited the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg a few months ago. Now there was a lady who knew what she wanted and had no problem in expressing her thoughts!

  7. Was Mrs. Eisenhower your aunt? Great story! I'm not sure I would have had the courage and humor to turn things around as you did, but I can learn from stories such as these. Beautifully told.

  8. What a lovely story Pamela.....we must all follow your example when we come across anyone who has the demeanor of your Aunt ( beore you coaxed that smile out of her !)
    A lovely ending to the story that you both became friends. XXXX

  9. Brilliant way to soften a 'starchy & provincial' heart Pamela...from the sound of it, I'm sure Aunt J was very appreciative. This is a lesson I needed to learn, as I have a few bits of starchy personas that are continually floating about me and can cause chilly silence in a hearbeat...time for a bit of fun I'd say!!
    xoxo J~

  10. Just what we needed to be reminded of, as we approach the Christmas season.

  11. Pamela could you be any more fun and brilliant!! Now I have to practice my way to respond with light humor!

    Obviously you made your aunt's evening much more fun than it would have been!

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  12. Pamela, I can only imagine what a wee bit of humor might have done for Mamie! Too bad you weren't sitting next to her at some point.

    Wonderful, wonderful post.

  13. When I saw the photo of Mamie, I knew something else good was coming with it in the form of a good story....
    I had a great Aunt Molly who worked in a big office pool on a high floor in a department store building (with the old wrought iron elevators) with many other secretaries, all typing away. She always wore a brown or gray suit and she would take time to have an ice cream sundae or float with me when I was a young visitor; she appeared intimidating but never a problem breaking the ice with her. She had a crooked smile and bow legs...she married at the late age of 75 and is gone now as well...thanks for reminding me of her today.

  14. I love your story...but am stumped as to how I can "apply" it to mine:

    If you have time/a moment maybe you can advise :)

  15. I'm eccentric and comedic enough to take bringing a smile or two to folks such as your aunt as a challenge.

  16. This reminded me of a few of my aunts - this breed seems to have died out now but I did enjoy reading about it. I thought I recognised Mamie.

  17. What a lovely story!
    I have to confess, though, it reminded me of the Blackadder episode with the Puritans and the wild party - and the turnip shaped like a thingy :-)

  18. i adore this story and love the message. i will give it a try this christmas season with one of MY aunts!
    thank you for the reminder terry

  19. I recently re-connected with my godmother and her sister and am so happy that I did. I enjoyed this post very much.

  20. Oh, your approach is so exactingly true and worth the effort even if it doesn't resolve itself with such a pleasing outcome! You spread your joy and how lucky for your Aunt she was wise enough to catch it!! Happy Holidays!

  21. Now that you've said, Mrs. E., I see the resemblance. Would you believe, I thought it was Hermione Gingold
    Telling my age now, aren't I?
    LOL and Merry Christmas from
    Thistle Cove Farm

  22. Well am I glad you said it was Mamie. I just took the first look
    and kept thinking about what a ringer for Mamie Eisenhower.
    You did the right thing Pam, you
    are wise beyond your years.

  23. oh I love this... I once worked with a group of ladies who sound very much like your Aunt. It took some time, and quite a lot of effort, but oh - once I broke through and got them laughing, the fun we had. Precious moments :-)

  24. Brilliant aunt. Friendships develop in mysterious ways.

  25. My Aunt was just the opposite, but just as mysterious. She never married, said she had a lot more fun without having to deal with the moods of "some man." Bought her own furs and jewels and dressed to the nines, she would sweep in on a cloud of Chanel No. 9, all kisses and smiles and eccentricities. I thought she was so incredibly glam, and she was the happiest person I think I've known. So thrilled that you were able to connect with your Aunt. What a great story!

  26. what a good story , glad it had a happy ending.


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