“I’m number 1.” “I’m number 2.” “I’m number 8, but really I’m number one of them all.” Proudly, and with raucous laughter on the last comment, the women go down the line introducing themselves, number by number, in reference to their rightful place in the birth order of their family.
As one of nine children, six of whom were girls, my mom has been blessed to be surrounded by not only a tight-knit group of siblings, but a rock-solid group of sisters throughout her lifetime.
Now in their late 60s to 80s, I’ve watched them all in the various stages of their lives—raising children, experiencing an empty nest, parenting young adults, having their children marry, becoming grandmothers—I can honestly tell you no matter what stage of life they’ve been in, no matter what stage of life I’ve been in, my aunts are a glue that have held one another together, a glue that have held me together, a force that draws you in, that bursts forth joy, love, and connection.
In today’s world where families move apart, I’ve seen the drift that has happened even in ours. The once annual family reunions where everyone knew everyone, despite the sheer number of family members we had, ended in my late teens. My grandmother’s passing in my late 20s ushered in yet more drift. As the head matriarch who raised these joyful women alone after her husband died in 1978, her death left a hole in our hearts.
Yet, no matter how far family members have moved, no matter how much our lives or our world has changed, one thing has always remained.
The aunts, as we lovingly call my mother and her sisters, are still a central focus of all of our lives.
As their hair has gone white like my Grandma Ruby’s did, my daughters have each mistakenly called each of the aunts their grandma, not only because they resemble one another in both looks and loving and quirky personality, but also because they travel in a tribe. Just like the old line that you “don’t drink alone” the aunts typically don’t go anywhere alone. Minimally, they travel in pairs. After losing two sisters to cancer over the years, they also travel in a pack of four.
What they lack in numbers now, they make up for in abundant personality. Whether they’re wearing a tongue-in-cheek shirt about being with their sisters or they’re asking a stranger all sorts of personal questions about their life, the aunts’ force is strong. You see them. You hear them. You want to be with them. You love them.
And love them, I do.
As a little girl, there was nothing better than time spent together with them and my cousins. We were more than family—we were best friends. As I’ve aged alongside them, aunt weekends became a favorite occurrence. Comfort foods, laughter—all a recipe for a great weekend. At this stage of our lives, their steadfast support of my life in ministry, their surprise attendance at events I’m at, their text messages reminding me and my daughters they love us and miss us, brighten my day and bring back all of the memories we’ve had together over the decades.
As the mother of only two children, part of me has grieved over the years that they lack the opportunity to form a girl gang like my mom and her sisters, but my sincerest hope is that I’m raising my two girls to be a smaller version of this club of sisters that has blessed one another, blessed me, and truly our entire family over the years.
If you’re reading this, Mom and the aunts, know I’m thankful beyond words for you. Know you’ve exemplified for our entire family what unconditional love looks like, what joy personified looks like. Know that we’ve seen you standby one another and each of us, and we’re grateful for your support. Know that your example, Grandma’s example, will live on long after you’re gone. And as for me and my girls, we may be small in number compared to you, but what we lack in size, we promise to make up for with the same personality, love, and commitment you’ve shown us all.
Here’s to all the aunts, the moms, the grandmas, the sisters, the matriarchal figures in our lives.
You make us as individual women, our families, and our collective communities better people and better places.