Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Family Portraits #1: Aunt Eileen

Written at the kind invitation of Jennifer Dukes Lee for the High Calling's group writing project. The assignment? Describe someone from your childhood who influenced you in some way, either positively or negatively. Use lots of detail and keep it to 300-500 words. If you'd like to join in, hop over to this post at Jennifer's site:

 Photo taken two years ago this month, October 2009. Such a sweet face, such a dear aunt.

To me, she was beauty and grace personified. She was fun and flirty, blond and soft-spoken, with a lovely soprano singing voice. She had a great laugh and she wore cat's eye glasses through which her eyes always twinkled.

My mom was the second of my grandmother’s four kids, and Eileen was the baby. Mom got about 99% of all the drive in that quartet and Eileen? Well, Eileen was a softer person than my mom in many ways.* My mom wanted our rooms, including the woodwork, scrubbed every Saturday. Eileen didn't seem to notice or care all that much. She lived with orange crates for furniture for a lotta years, and I found that charming somehow.

Eileen married a big bear of a man, whom she adored. I can see my aunt looking lovingly at my Uncle Chuck to this day, the two of them dancing to love songs that they sang to each other at our family gatherings. I loved watching them.

I was a weird duck as a kid, but she loved me anyhow. I read all the time. Always a book - sprawled on the couch, in the bathroom, even while brushing my teeth. There was usually one propped on my white wooden chest of drawers while I languidly dressed for school each morning, and another one under the covers at night, read by flashlight. That love of books came from my mom, but a very different kind of reading love came from Aunt Eileen: Hollywood glamour magazines.

So delicious, so forbidden! When we went to their house, I knew exactly where she kept them and I'd take a stack, throw myself across their bed and start reading, from cover to cover. My mom would not abide such things in our home, so this was my chance! And I took advantage of that chance every single time.

Mom always wanted me to be 'more social, interact with people!' But I preferred reading about starlets and limousines. And Aunt Eileen breezily told my mother to leave me alone. An aunt who was an ally - who could ask for more? Especially when gossip columns were there for the reading.

You see, I was too tall, too bookish, too awkward when I was growing up. My mom worried a lot, transmitting those worries to me in such a way that I became terribly self-conscious. For my aunt, however… Well sure, I was a tall girl. And I did like to read an awful lot, but … I was interesting. I was a bit of a puzzle and she was intrigued. Perhaps because she didn’t have to raise me, she could look at me in a more disinterested way. She liked what she saw and I knew it. Can you imagine what a priceless gift that is for an insecure young girl?

I love you, Aunt Eileen, and I thank you for loving me even in my weird duck-ness!

*Lest you think my mom was a harsh person, may I refer you to this post, which talks about her in a more fully-orbed way.