My mother’s aunts outnumbered their brothers two to one; but their strength was not in numbers, it was in their gender. I never understood a patriarchal world. These women made it clear from the outset that the power of the household was in their possession with such a clear and confident authoritarianism. That was a delicate way of saying they kinda scared me.
They were of a generation that had no time or need of nonsense, frivolity or complaints; part of a generation dictated the standard of “hard working.” They were my mother’s role models. She went to them before she would seek out her own mother. She looked up to them and adored them. She wanted their approval for the decisions she made. They did not always agree with her decisions, she knew it, but they never made a fuss of what their opinions were. She has managed to do the same with me.
These women cultivated my understanding of community. My memories of them are not extensive. They exist in singular moments. My Aunt Theresa’s metal dipper that made well water somehow taste crisper, colder and fresher than anything I have or ever will taste. My Aunt Bernie helping my cheek to heal from frostbite after my mother walked us to her house seeking advice or respite, or both. My Aunt Myrtle returning each piece of tinsel to its box after Christmas and my Aunt Iva, the youngest of all of them, forever being twenty-nine on her birthday.
Even with these limited memories, I know they were instrumental in building the backbone of my small part of rural New Brunswick. They were behind the church picnics, the Easter breakfast; they made the triangle sandwiches for wedding showers, baby showers and ultimately funerals. They were the ever-watching eyes that kept our noses clean.
When adventuring on our own or with their grandchildren, my mother knew where we had been and what we had done before we walked through the door. Perplexed by her witch-like knowledge, she responded simply with, “a little birdie told me.” Her aunts saw all. They were the nurturing presence that most forcefully impacted her ability to mother us.
They possessed the power to make you crumble with a single look; a mere sigh told you all you needed to know about their mood. I know this of them because they passed these traits to my mother. These women have come rushing through time and genetics to tell me I am out of line with the furrow of a brow. My mother’s aunts are the foundation upon which I am built; it is strong, resilient and stead fast.