There should be a National Auntie Day, and I’m not talking Hallmark here. Now I should know about these things because I am an auntie, an ex-auntie and an auntie-to-be. The auntie bit is simple. My brother has two daughters and one of them is also my godchild. Considering that my brother is a mass going atheist and that I myself am a church boycotting religious deserter with a penchant for spirituality (who spent two hours last Saturday in a church watching my daughter being confirmed – kids choice and all that lark), well considering all that, you’d wonder why I was asked to be godmother, and that goes back to my point: it’s because I’m the auntie. Aunties are family and you don’t have to explain certain things to them, they just know. Aunties are people who are expected to have big ears, hearts and wallets. And even if they can manage two out of three, they’ll be doing alright.
The auntie-to-be part is the other brother. He’s in his mid or late thirties, I can’t remember, but because he’s the kid brother, the other brother and I still think it’s a scream that he’s getting all grown up and talking to girls, let alone marrying one and having a kid with her.
The ex-auntie bit is more complicated though. You see when I was married; I was an auntie to my husband’s nieces and nephews. Then you get divorced and you realise it’s not just the bastard you married who you leave behind, no, there’s a landslide. It’s awkward, and in fairness over the years some of them have kept in touch, including my ex-godchild who I met at an ex-niece’s wedding last summer. The ex-godchild reckons I owe her quite a tidy sum of money, a few teddy bears and a visit. The ex-niece told me to stop saying how much she’d grown, considering she is now almost thirty. (But like the brother, if kids don’t retain their snotty status they’ll pass you out and I’m having none of it.)
This weekend, as I mentioned earlier, my daughter made her confirmation. I sent my kids to a multi denominational school where they learn to embrace all faiths and none. I wanted to save them from what I consider to have been the most dangerous place for children for the past 200 years: the Catholic Church. Of course my daughter is a bit of a rebel, and in an attempt to be different from her mother she insists on hanging out with Catholics and has now been duly confirmed as being a member of the gang.
So we made a day of it.
And that’s where the aunties come back in. Not that either of her aunties or any of her ex aunties showed up for the day or anything, but one auntie did come: my auntie.
I’ve really only gotten to know my aunt in the past few years. Well that’s not quite true, because you remember who was nice to you and who told you to shut up and be quiet when you were a kid, and she’s on the good list from back then.
And as a rule, nice aunties don’t break their patterns. Even though I’m pushing 50, my auntie still brings me presents and gives me white envelopes. She is impartial, non-judgemental and being an aunt means that despite being family, she is that tiny bit detached enough not to get pulled into the usual family brawls that surround these occasions. That’s not why I like this auntie though. I like knowing an intelligent, thinking woman who is more physically active than I am despite being in her 90th year. I like listening to someone talking about the past with a critical eye instead of saying how wonderful everything was back in the days of repression, poverty and abuse and that we all need to go back there. It’s refreshing. I love hearing things about the family from years back that I didn’t know. When I hear about my own godmother (rip) pushing people out of the way with her stick, I recognise my own behaviour and begin to ponder on the genetics of being a bully. And of course, I’m beginning to see my aunt as a role model: she gives me hope that I might be around for another whole lifetime’s worth of shenanigans and that I might manage to reinvent myself more than once.
But I could also see my future if I do get there. People tend to assume that because you’re old, you are still living old values and that you are a bit dithery, slightly deaf and mildly mentally handicapped.
If my aunt wanted to, she could have come to Galway on a motorbike, or hitch hiked, and yet I kept hearing people say things like ‘aren’t you great getting the train to
Galway.’ Why is an active adult woman so great to get on a train? Is it because somewhere on a piece of paper it says that she’s almost 90? I realised that if I make it to 90 I’ll be treated like I’m 9. My aunt tells me that it can come in handy. She says she can ‘do feeble’ when it suits. Some of the time I got pissed off listening to people patronise her, but most of the time I felt smug and all of the time I wished she had a walking stick to belt them with. They say blood is thicker than water, but mud is also thicker than water and so is chocolate.
Funny thing is; we are not blood relatives. She was married to my father’s brother. It got me thinking. I never would have known her if she hadn’t married into the family, so on that score, it’s purely a family thing, or is it?
I think Aldous Huxley got it right in his ‘Ninth Philosopher’s Song:
'Blood, as all men know, than water's thicker
But water's wider, thank the Lord, than blood.'