Aunts, Ancient And Modern #familymemories

PG Woodhouse was clear about how devilish Aunts could be in his fabulous Bertie Wooster books.

I’ve been lucky with my aunts, both of them are alive and well and with power to add to the gaiety of nations. But not all aunts are darlings. Oh no. Not at all.

Woodhouse understood aunts. Formidable and not to be underestimated. He wrote this for example

“It isn’t often that Aunt Dahlia lets her angry passions rise, but when she does, strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.”

And what of my experiences of nutty aunts? Well, while my aunts have been a good counterpoint to parents, giving us, in the best way, a subversive experience of adulthood, a distinction must be drawn between Aunts and Great Aunts.

My Great Aunts, unlike troubles, came not in battalions but in single spies, spread over time.

I recall a series of visits from women sporting large coats, hats of monumental confection and immovability and voices that launched battleships and penetrated deep space. The Archaeologist and I were fascinated by their hats. Why for instance did these dusty faced women, smelling oddly of wardrobes and toilets, take off their coats and shoes yet leave on their hats? Were they bald beneath? Did they fear their rigid and highly spun hair might make a bid to escape if released from the weight of the hat? Was something extraordinarily interesting kept underneath, a marmalade sandwich perhaps or one of those odd shaped rubber things mum had in her bedside table, hidden under a tangle of stockings, Pond’s Cold Cream and spare soap?

They perched too, did great aunts. They never sat back in any chair, unlike great uncles who contoured to each chair and used their stomachs to balance everyday equipment such as teacups and tobacco pouches.

Great aunts did a lot of disapproving. They had a range of tutts that accompanied another great aunt’s conversation, like mood music for their complaints. I’m sure I read that certain tribal languages amongst aboriginal peoples which comprise whistles and clicks were used during the Second World war as unbreakable codes; the vocabulary of the Tutting Aunt could have been used with equal facility.

Great aunts were possessed of things like rheumatics and water works and a variety of bowel problems and ate in small pecks though they never left anything. And they all seemed to have ill fitting teeth that the swilled around inside their mouths as they spoke, ate or drank tea.

Great aunts were occasionally generous, bestowers of chocolate treats and hard peppermints that blew your sinuses apart. They belched and farted but woe-betide any comment, or worse snigger; in such a case fingers, gnarled like a hundred year old beech branch and forged from titanium would unerringly catch you close to, or on, the ear, leaving no mark but inflicting searing pain.

One great aunt, Rose, was a staunch high ranking officer in the Sally Army.

Even my gran, her sister, behaved impeccably in Aunt Rose’s presence. We had tea once a year at her small cottage near the harbour in Whitstable and the Archaeologist and I were begged to behave for the two hours we were there. If we did then on the way home we were treated to a go on the diesel powered boats on the lake at Hampton just outside Herne Bay.

I wish I remembered what the adults talked about but I do remember the mood – sombre, funereal. I suppose someone, somewhere had died and their lives must have been picked over critically with their chances of a swift pass by St Peter dissected, probably leading to the conclusion that they would be sent to the back of the queue.

Yes, I’ll take my aunts any day but of Great Aunts, they are better in memory than in person.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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53 Responses to Aunts, Ancient And Modern #familymemories

  1. prejila says:

    Super article

    Like

  2. I love that last photograph. I see teeth in the middle, a most unusual sight in photos of that era. Perhaps they are about to fall out!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M. L. Kappa says:

    Loved this post, Goeff. And the photos. Made me think of my great-aunts!

    Like

  4. Nicely remembered and described

    Liked by 1 person

  5. noelleg44 says:

    I remember one of my great aunts, Aunt Olive. She was a teetotaler but my Mom told me that she served liquor at a gathering after a funeral and got into it. Rocked her way across the room and back several times.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marsha says:

    Hi Geoff, This post made me smile. My parents were both only children, so I had nothing but “gray” aunts, as I called them. I knew my maternal grandfather’s two sisters well. Aunt Mary was the elder, and my grandfather was the baby. He stood in awe of her. I didn’t have to. When I met her son, my mother’s only cousin, in 2011, I felt like I knew him because I had known his mother and father from birth. We had such different perspectives to share about her life. She was VERY bossy especially in the kitchen, and he remembered her more in her later years when she probably submitted to him and his wife. I don’t remember her submitting to anyone.

    Believe it or not, I even knew some of my great-great aunts, sisters of my maternal great-grandmother. They were much more like the aunts you described, though mostly bedridden by the time I knew them. Very somber visits.

    You have a sharp memory, and it’s fun to see the old ladies through your eyes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I have a curious memory, I think, Marsha. It doesn’t take much to prompt one memory and others cascade from it. I’m sure I mix timelines and characters but everything seems rich and full of detail. I guess Im fortunate the way it works.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marsha says:

        It’s wonderful. My brother always has been the timeline/detail person in our family. I think I must have lived in a fantasy world when we talk about things that happened. Either that or I just wasn’t there. I’m never sure if it’s my memory or I really wasn’t on that outing. 🙂 Sometimes people assume I was with them when I wasn’t. It gets very confusing during story hour. That’s why I like my stories better than theirs, LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I’ve always believed there is no story that isn’t improvable with some new facts. Never let the truth impede entertainment. We weren’t born to be encyclopaedias!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marsha says:

        I make mine up when I’m writing fiction, unless the story demands some true facts. My silly journals didn’t include quotes.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. sadly no great aunts living for me, but I do have three…….. my Dad’s sister, his sister in law, and my Mum’s sister in law.
    On the other hand, I am not only an aunt and great aunt, but also a great great aunt to an eight year old boy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. three aunts that is………….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joylennick says:

    I just had a lot of laughs at my memories. thank you! Most aunts were kind and giving; two especially good cooks…One spoke the English language like a sailor…Another baked the family’s celebration cakes with talent (but also stepped forward when it came to ‘the laying out’ of the dead.) One was like a Sergeant Major with her husband and her home was covered in plastic covers and what-nots..(I can hear her now..’Don’t forget to wipe your feet!’ as he came in the door.) Many were great fun. I am an aunt to six, great aunt to eight and great great aunt to three.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Blimey you’ve nailed the aunt thing Joy. I’d forgotten that obsession with keeping things covered. And bloody doillies. Do doillies still exist or have they gone the way of antimacassers and the ubiquitous aspidistra?

      Like

  10. JT Twissel says:

    I adored my Auntie Dottie who was a character but her sons have had difficult lives so as an aunt she was a kick but I feel sorry for my cousins! I barely remember my great aunts. You were so lucky!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Such fun, and I love the old photos! I’ve had a few interesting aunts, myself…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. petespringerauthor says:

    Such a great post! Here’s to all of the aunts and great aunts in our lives. Now I want to know what was under those hats too. “Auntie, Auntie, let down your golden hair, or anything else you’ve got hiding up there.” 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Darlene says:

    I had many great aunts (about 21) and they were formidable. A visit from them had me scrambling to make sure the house was tidy, as a bad housekeeper was worse than an adulterer or murderer in their mind. I recall getting a call that two great aunts were planning to stop in that evening to see my new (to me) house. I did a quick tidy, tossing things into a hall closet and slamming the door tight. They loved the place and thought I made a good purchase. Until one aunt, before I could stop her, grabbed the closet handle and said “Are the closets a good size?” whipping it open. Assorted sports gear, toys, coats and shoes fell out at her feet. Busted! I loved them all dearly and just lost the last one a year ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      My Aunt Ethel would pick her teeth – all sorts seemed to lodge there even if she only had a drink. I always felt unfairly picked on when she complained about me and my nose. These days I understand the distinction!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I love those old photographs. I’d have to go to the family tree to work out how many great aunts I had – quite a few, but I only really knew two, and one of those much better than the other. She loved poetry and always gave us cream soda to drink which I didn’t like much. I can remember the taste to this day though.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Jennie says:

    Memories have a way of eventually making one smile. Super post, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Widdershins says:

    Had I not watched a certain, rather well made, movie a while ago, the marmalade sandwich in a hat would’ve passed me by completely. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This is delightful, Geoff. So very English.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. willowdot21 says:

    It’s a generational thing Geoff!!

    Liked by 1 person

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