Great aunt or grand aunt is defined as the sibling of a grandparent, and I’m going to be one for the first time in April! I’m already packing to go to New York to attend the baby shower on February 4, weather permitting. I have been a grandmother for nearly twelve years but this is my first shot at a new role. Most people don’t really understand my excitement. They comment snidely: “But you won’t see the baby much.” “She won’t really know who you are for a long time, if ever.” “And, she’ll have a ton more relations than you who are more involved, and closer geographically, as well as genetically.”
Rationally, I know all that. But I have fond and sustaining memories of my own great aunts and uncles, and there were a bunch of them. They were old-fashioned, dressed funny, talked with accents, had no idea what my life was like and could be very embarrassing. It took me years to figure out exactly who they were and how it happened that they had the right to fold me against their ample bosoms or pinch my cheeks, or give me money. By the time I was able to have had an adult relationship with them, I had moved far away and my trips home were brief and rarely included them.
But I grieved when they all passed away in the 1980s and 90s, one by one. I wished I had known them better, that my daughter could also have basked in their uncomplicated and unconditional love. When, as an adolescent, my world seemed like a rather cold and disapproving place, there they were, watching me play the piano, or sing a song out-of-tune, or flash my report card with expressions of benign approval, forever etched on their faces. That and their warm kisses and soft, smushy hugs are their legacy to me.
As her great aunt, I plan to make sure that I have some presence in this little girl’s life. I’ll send Halloween Cards and Valentines every single year (like I did for her dad when he was young) and give her kisses (and money) whenever we see each other. I will look on at her life with benign approval and that will be my legacy to her.