The unsung heroes of life.
There are our real aunties, who are related to our parents as their siblings, and then we have the other sort of aunties who we are not related to at all. They are usually our mum’s best mates who we saw more than we saw our dad growing up – you know the aunties I mean.
Firstly, in praise of all ‘good’ aunties out there, you need to recognise how incredibly special you are in your nieces and nephews’ lives. Without knowing it, you have helped and supported lives just by being you.
Luckily, I am blessed in the aunty way, but I must admit that I did not always feel that lucky with one particular Aunty growing up.
My Aunty was only 13 when I was born, a mere child herself when, in November 1977, she became an Aunty to a niece (moi!), for the first time.
It was inevitable that we were headed for a bumpy start. As well as only being 13, my Aunty also lived with us, so we were essentially siblings rather than niece and Aunty for our first years together and I can tell you that she was so MEAN to me.
She told my mum that she would take me swimming ‘to teach me how to swim’ and I swear she would try to drown me. Not only that, she also wouldn’t let me pick anything from the vending machines on the way out either!
We used to share a room, and bunk beds, and every time I dared to breathe or turn over, she shouted up at me to stop. I used to lie there in fear, as still as anything, less I annoyed the beast any further.
When she was on babysitting duties, I had to keep my eyes shut and feign being asleep when she came to do her after bedtime patrols. One time, I tricked her and made it stealth like all the way downstairs to peep through the crack in the living room door to see my Aunty and her friend ‘Little Pete’ and I can confirm that they were NOT watching The Old Grey Whistle Test (contrary to what she told my Mum and Dad upon their return!).
Now, I was no angel – after all I was learning from the best. I did get my own back.
One night she told me off for wriggling one time too many. I hadn’t even moved, I promise. Well, if she was going to have a go at me for wriggling, then wriggle I would. I sat bolt upright and did as many seat drops on the top bunk as I could muster. The next night my mum told me that I was going to move to the bottom bunk. Fine by me! I would poke my pokiest toes through the gaps in the springs and aim to cause as much irritation as possible.
My poor Aunty. She was up early for her paper round and college every day, after a night of me being a super-brat.
But still the games continued. For each ‘Go away!’ or ‘You’re so annoying,’ or ‘Leave me alone,’ she inflicted upon me, there was a punishment duly dealt. I once mixed blue powder paint with water…on her bed. Her expensive Rive Gauche perfume found its way emptied into her knicker drawer, along with a sprinkling of Johnson’s talc, and I used to jump deliberately near the record player when she was playing her ‘Genesis’ vinyl album to make it scratch just a tiny bit.
I can’t remember exactly when the petty proxy sibling war came to an end, or a truce was called – but it did. So many of my core memories from childhood and growing up include her.
She would ride my scooter with me and make us go super-fast and then stop it at an emergency stop, just at the corner of the street right before me bumped down the kerb into the road – adrenaline junkies that we were.
The day my sister was born, it was her that made my dinner and we shared with each other how excited we were.
She took me shopping with her friend and I cried and moaned all day until I got to buy my ecto-plasm slime from Toys R Us. Years later she told me that her friend had been bitching about me ALL day and that as a result she sent said friend packing and never saw her again.
Such is the loyalty an Aunty has for her niece.
But if ever there was evidence of how much she loves me it was the sweet shop incident. A sunny, Sunday morning in the early 1980s and off we were sent to get papers and a 10p bag of sweets. The shop was busy and so she told me to stay outside near the door as she popped in. All she remembers was a banshee style howl that ripped through the morning calm. I had somehow put my fingers through the open-door hinge gap and got them crushed. I don’t remember the pain, or why I had done what I did. I just remember being scooped up in safe, strong arms and being hurtled home as quickly as she could run. I was a lump and a half, and I can tell you now that she did not stop to breathe, or slow down until she got me home. On my return from the hospital, I walked into the front room, minus a fingernail but plus a smart dressing and a little 10p bag of sweets that she had gone back to retrieve, just for me.
We have come a long way since then.
My teen years and her thirties brought us closer still. Her town centre flat became an after-club haven for me, and the gang, and we would stumble through the door giggling away to find our sofa bed for the night already made up and hot chocolate waiting for us in the kitchen. At every twist and turn in my life, there she was, not creating or adding to the drama, never judging me or expecting anything from me – always there and ever present: my wedding, my baby, the divorce, the moves, my sister emigrating and so many other peaks and troughs, good times and bad – she could always be relied upon and has never let me down. She never tells me off for not ringing, or not picking up, she’s never passively aggressive or nastily sarcastic and I cannot remember a time that she has hurt my feelings since I was 3 and she told me I was annoying. (Even though, she was only speaking the truth.)
Now at 40 and 50 something, although she is a million miles away from the tetchy teen that she was, I must admit that I can still play the part of the jester niece to a tee, and I am forever grateful that she humours me in this role. I can say the most outrageous things to her and about her and she laughs along with me, rolling her eyes. She let me watch her get her eyebrows waxed for fun and it was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. Only last month she had a (very minor) fall and hurt her ankle so now my next goal is to wheel her around in a wheelchair for fun and I know that she will let me. She will!
So, to all the aunties out there – please don’t ever feel that you don’t matter, because you totally do. Aunties are the unsung heroes within families, ever present and around and always there without the angst or expectations that parents, other relatives or friends can sometimes have.
I truly hope if you are reading this that you have been as lucky as I have in the Aunty department.
To my nieces and nephews, by blood, or by association, please know that I am always here for you, and I am totally up for a wheelchair ride anytime.
And to my wonderful Aunty Michelle and my surrogate big sister – thank you for being you and for being the best Aunty role model ever…may the love and laughs keep coming!