I CELEBRATE AUNTS!
I celebrate aunts! No, not the little pests that find very crumb, every grain of sugar, every drop of honey, nor the ones that bite and sting, like fire ants. No, no. I want to celebrate my mother’s sisters—Joy Martin, Joanna Rice, Jessie Sandberg, Libby Handford, and Grace MacMullen.
I am the second of twenty-eight grandchildren. My parents lived in my grandparents’ home when I was born and all of her sisters were there. Except for one short break when I was a preschooler, I lived in Wheaton, where my grandparents and all five of my aunts lived, until I was thirteen.
We ate together every Sunday noon, celebrated every birthday and every holiday together, went as a body for a week of vacation every year—a farmhouse in Michigan, a group of cabins in Wisconsin, the Bill Rice Ranch, eventually to my grandparents’ home in Murfreesboro. We didn’t need a special occasion; we could create one at a moment’s notice.
I like to joke that my sister and I are among the very few alive who were present at all five weddings of the sisters, but my memories go much further than these weddings. These five women have been a major part of my life.
Because the youngest, Joy, was just ten years older than I, she was my playmate. I remember sitting in the sandbox with my sister and Joy and Wilma, her best friend, as they used wooden Velveeta cheese boxes to create a village for us from the damp sand. As I got older, she offered advice on hair, makeup, and dress, even adding to the makeup I was wearing when she didn’t think I had enough on! When I began teaching on the college level, Joy was my colleague and friend, not just my aunt. Today we both teach speech and compare stories and share ideas often.
Joanna is the next sister. Her first child was born the day before my tenth birthday and I thought I had a new doll! Joanna was my Sunday school teacher when I was in junior high, but after that our paths diverged. Today, however, we have discovered a fresh closeness as we each learn to live alone. We often eat together and have found that we can encourage each other. I sit next to her in choir and in many church services and look forward to our time together.
Jessie’s wedding is the first I really remember. I can even tell you about my dress, made by my grandmother, for her wedding. Her romance was a fairy tale for me. She has challenged me all my life to be creative, to plan, to pray for individuals. She has been through difficult things in her own life that teach me how I ought to respond. She has been my encourager, most recently with the words, “The story isn’t finished. The end has not been written.”
I carry Libby’s name as I, too, am an Elizabeth, but I hope that I have some of her other characteristics as well. She encouraged my love of music, even teaching my sister and me after we rode our bikes to her house, carrying Lloys Jean's violin and my viola. I sat on the floor in Libby’s office when I was a college student, reading the drafts of her books. I called her when my heart was broken as a graduate student, crying my eyes out, and she provided my grounding. She is my example of a Renaissance woman, always looking for more challenges, for more to learn.
The oldest of my aunts, Grace, has been gone for more than thirty years. I could talk about her fantastic piano playing, about her smile, about her laugh, but those things are not what made the most impact on me. Her last years are what I think of, as they were full of grace and courage. She faced first breast cancer, then the spread of the cancer into her bones and liver. She still smiled and laughed, not focusing on herself or her illness. I was expecting my first baby during her last months here on earth. We once sat next to each other for dinner at Gram’s. First she would leave the table to throw up, a result of her illness, then I would leave the table to do the same, but mine was because of my pregnancy. Her nausea was a precursor of death while mine was a symbol of life. I learned how to face death with courage from Grace.
Five women, five aunts, some shared characteristics, some very distinctive characteristics. They have each played a different role in my life. I cannot measure their impact on me. I celebrate aunts, mine in particular!
~~Faith Himes Lamb