Aunts and Uncles are among the most precious of the people in my life but for those of us over 60 the number of Aunts and Uncles we have is not necessarily in proportion to the number of siblings our parents had.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I called someone Auntie Dot in a Facebook post. One of her great grandchildren sent a quick response asking if we were related. My response was, “No I just called her that because Raye (my friend) did.”
That may seem strange to the younger folk but many of you will remember well the people on the fringes of your family who were too close to be called Mr. or Mrs. but who, because of social protocol, could not be called by their first names. The complicated social rights and wrongs of honorifics or prefixes are much easier to navigate now. .
I had a whole host of both sorts of Aunts and Uncles. The real, by birth, variety and their spouses were stretched out over generations. Some where great Aunts and Uncles who I got to see when I went to visit at my parents family homes and celebrations like family reunions. Strangely enough the cousins who were my parents age could be addressed by their first names. I believe I have a story for each one of these wonderful people. (… but that is for another day.)
I also have stories to go with each of the Aunts and Uncles who were not Aunts or Uncles and for the occasional Grandparent who wasn’t really a grandparent. Most often these people were neighbours or close friends of my parents.
Aunt Helen was Mom’s teacher friend and I was her flower girl when I was five. I will never forget those tiny little buttons on the back of her wedding dress that I had to do up because everyone else’s fingers were too big.
Next door to us lived Aunt Betty and Uncle Winn. Winn and Betty Ivey to most but always Aunt and Uncle to me. They were our neighbours for many years and the door swung open in one house or the other for coffee every Saturday of my young life. Mom and Aunt Betty were fast friends and when the Iveys moved there was a sadness at our house that never really left. Uncle Winn made me laugh when I saw him but he was a salesman and not home much of the time.
My Dad had some friends who I called Uncle. Uncles Bob and Ray were frequent guests at our home and their visits usually meant wails of laughter and fun for young and old alike. Uncle Bob later became Robert and I have no idea what ever became of his dear friend Ray. Another of Dad’s buddies was Uncle Merritt. I remember a wonderful panda bear he bought for me. I slept with it on my bed every day of my life until I left home. Merritt also played the trumpet and I would swell with pride at events like November 11 when people asked who the trumpet player was and I got to say, “Uncle Merritt”.
The Auntie I refered to in my Facebook post the other day was not someone dear to my family but rather to the family of my best friend. Because she called her Auntie Dot so did I. It would have seemed strange to say Mrs. Blake when everyone else around me was not.
That brings me to the Grandparents who weren’t my Grandparents. One of them was Grandpa Jack who was also tied to my friend. He was her mother’s father and showed up at our house about once a month with a “mess of perch”, and the occassional white fish for my mother. He was a rough and gruff sort and swore like a trooper but my Mom would always offer him a beer and then send him on his way again.
The other was Grandpa Hopkins and he was Aunt Betty’s father. He would come to stay with them on occassion and was always so sweet to me. His was the first funeral I remember being allowed to attend and it took some convincing for my mother to assure me that Grandpa Hopkins was really in that box.
While my children never had Aunts and Uncles who were not Aunts and Uncles they also had extra Grandparents. Of special note were Grandma and Grandpa Wagler, a wonderful Mennonite couple who took us under their wing when we were having some struggles in our own family. The other was Grandma June, who was the mother of a friend of mine. We spend many happy hours in her home and cottage.
As I look at it now, these Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles were very special people and they deserved the honorific endearment because they were worthy of honour. As confusing as it might be for children to figure out the how’s and when’s of prefixes of honour I think it is a tradition sadly lost.