Our extended family was just that: stretched out, prolonged, intense, moving at full stride. They lived far away from us. They were sometimes hard to keep track of. They were fun sometimes, and sometimes not. In spite of all the obstacles, Mom made sure we knew them all. For they were our family.
Auntie Thora was the eldest and most glamorous. We had seen many pictures of her, with a dramatic gray streak in her hair and a cocktail in her hand. She lived in exotic San Francisco. She had been divorced. (What a scandal!) She had two wild sons who we discovered were NOT glamorous. Her California home had windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. Despite the distance, Mom had us visit the Gould family. For they were our family.
Auntie Anna, the middle aunt, was fun. She could skip double dutch and do the jitterbug. She lived on a farm in Saskatchewan which we also considered glamorous in an earthy sort of way. She had SIX kids so there was always someone to play with. She could get the giggles just like a schoolgirl, and sometimes she was very sad. She was so real that we always cried when we left Sturgis. Despite the emotions, Mom had us visit the Paton family. For they were our family.
Auntie Alice was the youngest aunt. She, too was an American and had grown up there, far away from Mom. She had interesting American food like Danish Jelly and fruit cocktail cake and macaroni salad. She had an American accent and so did her three kids. She had another Mom, which somehow seemed to make perfect sense to us when we were small. She made us laugh when she worried and fussed about things. She welcomed us into her home. Despite the cramped quarters, Mom had us visit the Chamley family. For they were our family.
And Mom did not stop with her own siblings. She initiated and nurtured a loving relationship with Dad’s family, too. Now these members were known as the Aunts for they were far too distinguished and dignified to be called “Auntie”. They lived in Ottawa and Montreal and they were beyond glamorous. They were upper class, they were old money, they were professionals, and most of them were unmarried and extremely independent. They traveled around the world and bought us gifts that were unlike anyone else’s on Sutherland Avenue. They rang a small bell to summon their maid. They were Con, Doss, Ruth, Mary and Olive. They helped to raise our Dad. They were our family.
I hope that I have learned from Mom. With nephews and a niece in Edmonton, Vancouver and Thunder Bay, I hope I can build those family connections in spite of distance, emotions, space or class. For they are my extended family.
©Conni Cartlidge, 2010