I’ve been waiting to share my memory of this aunt. The time never seemed right. But tonight seems an opportune time, as she was a teacher by profession and today being Teacher’s Day.
She was my mother’s oldest sister who came after two sons in a sibship of ten. She was beautiful in youth, chiselled features, a twinkle in her eye, long dark hair draped over one shoulder. She remained that way as she aged.
My aunt had a profound sense of responsibility for her siblings and cared for them like they were her children. They, in turn, respected her authority. She was an indulged daughter who was known by her nickname, Baby, by her parents, and later siblings that followed. As the nieces and nephews came along, she asked us to call her ‘Baby Darling’. Her reasoning was simple. She never married and did not have anyone to call her darling. We accepted this.
Her name tripped off our tongue with easy, “Baby Darling this …”, “Baby Darling that …”. The memory of this makes the child in me smile. She had a closet in her bedroom that she kept locked. It was a treasure trove. It was always overstocked with perfumes and chocolates, and we crowded around her for the treats she shared generously. Despite all the beautiful bottles of perfume, I recall she had a strong preference for Tiger Balm for pain. Imagined or real.
Unlike my mother, who was always immaculately groomed, my aunt spent her day in PJs and slippers. Her reasoning, was simple. She was home. It was her castle where she was queen. She could do what she liked. If my mother objected and pleaded with her to dress for visitors, she would say, if they were offended, they could come back when she was dressed … which was never … and then follow this statement with a peal of laughter! We loved her eccentricity.
She was fiercely protective of her siblings and the extended family. She was the protector of all secrets. As teenagers we confided in her with absolute trust. Our secrets were safe in the vault of her heart. She giggled like a young girl at our stories of teen love, then she would share little snippets of her love life.
There was a sadness in her life. It made her eyes sparkle. Oh! the sweet pain of forbidden, unattainable love, far from being a burden, made her glow from the inside. Tennyson’s words, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, far from loss, was a triumph that glided her path.
As she walked with us step by step from childhood to teen years and beyond, little did she know, the children at her knee had learnt the best lesson about life.
Until next time
a dawn bird