Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Aunts

I have heard the phrase, "Friends are the family you choose" a lot - and as I understand it, this means something like: Thank goodness I can choose my own friends so I'm not stuck with these weirdos I happen to be related to. I thought that a lot more than I care to admit, until I grew out of my teenage years and became the fully enlightened, mature, and humbled adult I am today. Friends are great, but if hadn't been "stuck" with the family I have, I probably never would have chosen most of the best people I know. Specifically I'm talking about a few of my aunts.*

  • When I was 8 years old Anna and my aunt Sarah (my mom's sister who is the same age) took me on my first sleepover adventure. They took me to Hires for a hamburger, so even if the evening had stopped right there, I would have felt like I'd died and gone to Heaven. But we also went bowling, where we all had fun bowling names (I think mine was something like Bacon Bowling Babe?), and then we went toilet-papering with all their friends. We were caught, but one of their boyfriends helped me hide in the grass so we didn't have to help clean up. That was the greatest night of my life to that point, and still the best sleepover I ever had. 
  • Anna taught me to play Nerts well enough to beat mere mortals, even so I sometimes think I'm pretty good. But I'm not good enough to beat Anna, the aunt we lovingly refer to as the "Nerts Nazi." Despite the fact that she's really talented at Nerts, and almost everything else, she never feels the need to make other people feel bad. After a particularly painful loss in a family tournament she didn't feel the need to rub it in, but immediately acknowledged how close the game was and how well everyone did. 
  • When I was in Elementary School people often told me that I looked like Anna, and I was always so proud to be associated with her. She probably one of the straightest-arrows I know, in the best way possible. She does the right things for the right reasons without making anyone else feel bad for doing things a different (usually less-right) way. 
  • I visited her in Washington D.C. at age 9 and I still remember the roast beef dinner she made. 
  • If you were in a room with Mother Theresa and Emmy, Emmy would be the first to express love and admiration. She has nothing but kind things to say and is always thrilled to see me. In fact, sometimes she seems so happy about the prospect of seeing me that I'm sure I can't live up to the hype. But she always makes me feel like I'm worth being excited about, regardless of how interesting and exciting I may actually be. Sometimes people who are really nice and positive can seem a little fake, but Emmy is always completely authentic. She's not just wearing rose-colored glasses or saying what people want to hear. She just focuses on the positive and doesn't seem to care about people's flaws, no matter how glaring they may be. 
  • Emmy listens really well. She doesn't feel the need to jump into a conversation to get in her two-cents or share her own experiences. She listens intently to everyone, whether it's my six year-old cousin or my 91 year-old grandpa and engages with them in a way that makes them feel important. 
  • I've been to stay with Katie in Cincinnati two times and in both cases I have very vivid memories of the food she served. It wasn't that it was gourmet or fancy, but it was fresh and delicious and the way everyone gathered around to eat and enjoy made mealtimes so fun. 
  • Katie is a consistently great conversationalist.  I remember going to a family gathering at my grandma's house one Sunday when I was in Elementary School and pulling up a chair to the grown-up table rather than going outside to play with my cousins, all so I could listen to the conversation because Katie was in town.  Since then I've enjoyed being part of so many conversations with Katie that lasted for hours, without having a clue of how much time is passing. In the long row of beach chairs at our annual family Newport trip, a spot to next to Katie is a coveted one because she doesn't just spew interesting conversation herself. She pulls interesting-ness out of everyone around her. Even the less-talkative ones in the group feel at ease and are drawn into conversation when Katie is around. 
  • It's really common for conversations that revolve around people, and the most interesting conversations usually do, to turn into judgmental gossip sessions. However, Katie manages to talk about people's differences and difficulties in a way that is interesting but not judgmental. She is quick to compliment people on their strengths and clearly wants the best for everyone. 
  • When I was young and my parents would go out of town periodically I always felt stressed and upset after a few days of being at home with a babysitter. My parents called Ruth several times to come rescue me for a few hours. She had her own kids at home and plenty of other responsibilities but she never made me feel like a burden and I was always completely thrilled just to be spending time with her and her family. During one of my parents' trips she even attended my 5th grade spelling bee. When I was eliminated on the word "sovereign" (still can't spell it without spellcheck), simply said, "Sovereign...what a stupid word," and turned what could have been an embarrassing incident into a really fond memory. 
  • When I was 14 and in a terribly emotional argument with my dad about attending our Stake Youth Conference, I begged him to call Ruth because I just KNEW she would be on my side and understand why I shouldn't have to go. (I should note that my dad was pretty understanding of the fact that I was new to the Ward and hadn't been camping before and was really worried about having to live in the woods for three days with strangers.) My dad reached out to Ruth and she told both of us that she thought it was a good idea for me to go - and I felt totally betrayed. I sent her a dramatic email about how I was probably just going to run away and live in a park, since that couldn't be any worse than camping with strangers. Rather than rolling her eyes at my typical teenage behavior she apologized to me and sympathized with me and explained why she thought that doing hard things was important. I went to Youth Conference, and it was actually pretty awful, but I still appreciated the way Ruth treated me.
  • Ruth and I go to dinner about once a month. I so look forward to those dinners because I know I can share anything with her and still come away feeling supported and loved. 

Due to the age differences and geographical spread, and the fact that I am generally just not on their level, I probably wouldn't have had a chance to make them my "chosen" family (friends), so I'm really grateful to be stuck with them. 

These women are the standard to which I aspire. Even at times where I lack self-respect or feel ashamed and unworthy of their gene pool, they have never even once made me feel less than loved and a part of their "in" crowd. They're fun and interesting, and I'm always better for having spent time with them. 

*If this post seems a little braggy and makes you jealous, that's because it is and if you don't have aunts like this you should be jealous.


James H. Pearce said...

Great post! You capture them perfectly!

Elizabeth Madsen said...

I love this and I couldn't agree more!

Maggie said...

Nailed it

Sarah said...