If a child is blessed, there are a legion of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents surrounding her as she grows-up.
In this respect, I've been blessed. Especially during my early years.
If you're really lucky, the relatives that get designated as "the ones" - the couple to care for you if some horrific tragedy takes both your parents simultaneously - are relatives that feel like home, a party, discipline and safety all wrapped in one.
Here, again, I was blessed.
I'm not sure how parents decide who will be the best choice in a sea of amazing loved ones, but I'd like to believe my Aunt Stella and Uncle Bud volunteered, maybe even "fought for the privilege."
In the end, having them as loved ones was one of the privileges of my life.
When I naively picked-up and moved to Florida after graduating college and not finding a local job, it somehow seemed okay because Aunt Stella and Uncle Bud would be spending time in the same area, too.
And, in many respects it was...especially knowing what I know now.
They gave me my independence, but kept close and watchful eyes on my life. This doubled when my sister moved down a few months later.
Before you know it, the parents also relocated.
In the end, I can only tell you that if you are family-oriented and never moved away from all those you know and love, you really can't imagine how life-affirming it feels to keep some traditions going with those who are so precious to you.
So, even when our paths diverged, we always kept coming back "home" to Aunt Stella and Uncle Bud's for celebrations - Easter, Christmas (if they weren't with their children in VA), birthdays and the sacred celebration of Thanksgiving!
For decades we drove from Ohio to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my cousins, Aunt and Uncle. It was and remains my favorite holiday.
Please, do NOT picture some pristine family gathering of folks in suits or cocktail attire peacefully seated around the table.
First and foremost, we were vocal...to the point where one of my cousins' exes called us "Swiss Family Loud." Of course, I have always assumed all families were like this...(til I was married and it wasn't).
There were arguments. Loud, hours-long arguments. My cousin George with the patriarchs about politics and who knows what else. Who sat in the kitchen/at the kids table or who got to be at the adult/formal dining room table.
Lively "discussions" about when and how to stuff the turkey. Accusations of cheating leveled at the women when we always won Trivial Pursuit and Win Lose or Draw (Popu and his raccoon of shame with dagger nails but no mask).
There was the time that dad and Uncle Bud kept me up til about 2 a.m. arguing about saving seals, whales, ending nuclear war (whatever my passion was at the time)...I was exhausted, frustrated and, like the two of them, not willing to concede.
Then, mom stepped in and told me it was time to go to bed to which my dad and uncle chuckled, hugged and kissed me and sent me off to sleep with, "Good job. Go get some rest."
My aunt often told the story of when a neighbor stopped her in the driveway asking who the man was "fighting with Bud?" My aunt couldn't imagine what the guy was talking about... "When? Where?"
His response, "Now, in your yard!" "Oh, that's my brother...they're not fighting, their talking." Yes, YES, it was more often loud like this than not.
I pray I never forget Laura renting Jagged Edge and someone knocking on the front door during the most suspenseful part and everyone jumping, some screaming, all at the same time. Or, how the two men put Laura and Nanci's boyfriends through a torture test.
Of course, I'll always remember Uncle Bud's Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that we literally strung-up, tacking it to the wall and ceiling!
Coordinating drop-offs, parking and meet-ups at Tyson's Corner for the Day after Thanksgiving shopping extravaganzas (as an adult, I gotta wonder....I think the men went to a bar) before heading home to wait in line for use of the micro to "nuke" our leftovers (kids got to go first).
Uncle Bud's dislike of "plastic" milk and butter, plus disdain for cream of anything soup made into meal. Aunt Stella's "alfalfa tea" for upset stomachs and sleeping on the floor in Laura's room during visits.
Nanci taking us to Bloomie's for their "bloomers" - plus a cookie and sleepovers with sundaes. Laura swimming with us for hours on end and George's constant, "Do you have to use the bathroom - there's one right there?" when he took us to explore DC because his parents said we were shy and wouldn't ask.
I wonder if my brother remembers the time we were all in a passenger van heading downtown DC - maybe Capitol Fourth? - and he dropped the F-bomb without realizing it, repeatedly, and we all ended up (okay, not all - mom may have died still upset about this) laughing hysterically while he realized what he'd said and tried to get out of it.
Or, how their tom cats, Peaches and Cream, always sat on his head, face, or chest while he slept despite the fact that he was highly allergic to them. [They also ate the center out of the bread we put on the formal dining table to get crusty for Thanksgiving stuffing. (What can I say?)].
It wasn't JUST all of that, or the fact that they had an entire bread drawer in their kitchen dedicated to Little Debbie snacks, that we got to see Grandma Cookie (when she lived with them), explorations of historic sites like Harper's Ferry or visits to the Smithsonians. It wasn't even going to Farrell's for the spectacular ice cream options, their swimming pools or that I got to house/pet sit the kitties and live a bit of luxury while trying to make it in SWFL.
It was the love, laughter, getting disciplined, but also praised. It was real.
It was Uncle Bud's patience when helping Jo and I with math and geometry, time in Auntie's classroom putting up Gizmo decorations we'd help make, Nanci taking us to see ET, Laura letting us comb her hair, George singing to us, me staying at their house when I had my knee surgery and finding Abigail kitty, plus Nanci's "that's what bumpers are for" or "MAAA".
This spending time with my older cousins who were so cool and actually seemed to want to hang around us, plus being loved by this extended group of people who I felt would always be there - it was family in my purest understanding of the word.
It was my Aunt and Uncle who convinced my parents to attend my wedding after they disowned me. It was knowing UB would've walked me down the isle had dad not.
Yes, the discussions may have tempered a BIT over the years, but the traditions continued. They altered to meet the demands of changing lives, expanded family, age. But, they continued.
For those of us then living in a very transient community, how sweet it was to still spend time with loved ones on the most important of holidays, as well as randomly throughout the year.
It wasn't until I was in my 40s that I made my first Thanksgiving meal - Uncle Bud had passed, we hosted at mom and dad's condo and I cooked at my apartment using Auntie's "handful, pinch, soggy" instructions for the stuffing as handed down to her by her mom, my Grandma Cookie.
After Popu and mom both joined UB in heaven, I joined Auntie for Thanksgiving at her assisted living facility. There were the bonus years that Nanci and the Griffs hosted us all at their place and even times and gatherings when Doug and his family visited Florida.
Yesterday morning, Auntie finally got her wish - to be with her husband, brothers, my mom and all the relatives who've passed on...
As children, our parents told us that thunder and lightening was our deceased relatives bowling and partying it up in heaven. (Why I've always been okay with death in so many respects, I suppose. Though one is never prepared for grief).
While it's been too cold for that in Ohio, I know somewhere in another, lovely place, a grand table was set, music began playing and a whole lot of loved ones celebrated the return of Stella by enjoying great food, cocktails, maybe a few cigarettes and cigars, and lots of love.
After 90 years of loving me and being a friend, confidant and dispensing discipline, sarcasm, humor and wisdom, I can only say THANK YOU. I LOVE YOU. I MISS YOU. I know you are at peace and happy again.
To the vast legions of loved ones watching us from the other side - thank you for your legacy of love, even amidst the trauma our bloodline has endured. It is from these souls that I draw my knowledge, humor, sensitivity, loudness, wisdom, power, grace, wit, faith, determination, resiliency and perseverance.
Each one both acutely human and yet gracefully divine packages of love. Never perfect, yet somehow just what I and the world needed.
Rise in Peace and give em hell auntie!
I'm Mary Ann. I am a storyteller using skills, interests, education and experience to help others. Together, we'll explore your story and write a new ending for your journey along the nourished path.