Arrival of the Aunties

For many of us, as the daylight grows shorter and shorter, it’s a time to gather with friends and family.

November 20, 2022 | | Headwaters Nest

Inevitably, the Aunties arrive! They smell so good wrapped in their various perfumes, as we greet them one by one. They burst across the threshold, their partners and young ones in tow – forgotten for a moment in the rush of hugs and kisses. Jackets in bright colours peel off to reveal their prettiest outfits. The coats are thrown in the spare room, a pile of fashionable down and wool to be retrieved at a much later hour.

And then they unpack: I brought this for you! Here is the sweater I borrowed! I am finally returning this platter. Here is that spice mix you love. In comes the extra food, store-bought platters wrapped in cello and homemade specialties in janky old tins worn from generations of use. All seem wonderfully familiar and OTT (over the top!) at the same time. All the sweets we wouldn’t normally eat are here; the rules go out the window when the Aunties are on the scene.

At this time of year, the Aunties are in their wonderful glory. They love up the kids that aren’t theirs. At other times, they’ve been known to give a 50 dollar bill to the kids to “go get all the candy your mom won’t let you have,” at the fair or the theatre. When you stay over with them, they let you stay up late. As you get older, they’ll talk to you about sex and birth control before your parents will, and listen to stories about your friends and foes, your teenage highs and lows.

Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

Aunties come in many forms – some older, some younger, some by chance and happenstance – and I was lucky to have some fabulous Aunties. I didn’t call Greta Reid “Auntie,” but she and my mom’s other friend, Joan Day, were very special to me when I was growing up.

Greta is a writer, a designer and knitter, with a shocking burst of snowy white hair and bangles up her arms. Her British accent drew me in at every gathering. We would talk about fashion and art, and movies I’d never heard of. She brought expensive bread in a paper bag from Toronto bakeries, with crunch and floured crusts unlike those from any local grocery store. She sent thick Vogue magazines to me, with the pages dog-eared: “For B,” in her elegant scratch – “Fabulous!”

Joan was short, round and grounded – with dyed red hair that stood in wild curls and large sunglasses that didn’t come off, even when she was inside. And wild caftans – how cool! Her house was dark and exotic and filled with lacquered furniture from far away. “Hi, Beth!” she would say in her jewelled voice and envelop me in her musky cloud. Her hugs were epic and strong, and this went on all my life until cancer blanketed her fire.

Marcia is also an Auntie to me – my mom’s best friend for most of her life. She saw me through my teenage years, from awkward and sporty on through my years of black clothing and heavy eyeliner, boyfriends, schools and jobs. Her first marriage let me peek at opulence. I learned about decor and fashion from her, and wild ’80s parties imprinted on my mind – the loud music on the record player and the stirring of mixed drinks.

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  • Later, Marcia became a fabulous baker – soft cookies and decadent cakes, either as quick fixes when someone arrived unexpectedly or all-day affairs of whipping and folding. We love each other like true blood. We still email, connect on social media and have the occasional phone call. She is not afraid to give me advice, and I take it well because I know how intimately she knows my family and me. One of my favourite places in this world is sitting across from Marcia, sharing tea and cake.

    The Aunties in our lives play a special role. They are close, but on the outside looking in. They can see you and your family with a lens you don’t have when you’re related by blood. They spoil you like your parents never would, eat foods unfamiliar, smell different. They are truth talkers who open exotic worlds, yet provide a safe place.

    In my life, one of my favourite successes is to be an Auntie to some of my friends’ kids. I’m on the sidelines when I can be, cheering on the only player I can see on the field, greeting their beloved horses by name, or talking art or upcoming thesis work. I am also so happy my son Adrian is blessed with Aunties in his life. This holiday season, they will soon be blowing through the door again. Each with a perspective unique from mine, they see Adrian’s spark, admire and celebrate him, and love him madly.

    More Family Fun This Winter

    Happy trails!

    Take a peek at the map of the trails at Mansfield Outdoor Centre – this incredible local gem boasts dozens and dozens of kilometres of trails for you and your kids to discover, and they’re open all winter. Take your little snow bunnies on hikes, fat bikes or snowshoes for some outdoor fun and exercise. Mansfield Outdoor Centre is located just up Airport Road, about ten minutes north of the Mansfield General Store. Their Winter Limited Access Pass ($149) is valid from now until the end of March and gives you access to bike, hike and snowshoe trails. Want to add in cross-country skiing? Check out the Winter All Access Pass ($249; students/seniors, $199). See their website for upcoming Family Pass details.

    Frosty farmers’ market?

    The Orangeville Farmers’ Market is not frosty at all! Step inside the warmth of Orangeville Town Hall on Broadway any Saturday between November 5 and December 17, and between January 7 and April 22 to be delighted by local vendors of lovely fresh produce, baking and meats; makers of tiny treats for little ones; and crafty folks selling their wares. We always miss the summer street meetups on sunny mornings, so the winter indoor market is worth putting on your list. Who knows, you may run into a friend or two!

    A classical experience

    Are you looking to open your ears and minds to classical music? The historic Gibson Centre in Alliston may have something for you beginning in March. Take a look and book tickets now for Joonghun Cho or Xiting Yang (pianists), Caroline Kim (cellist) and others during their spring classical music series. These world-class musicians may be just the inspiration you or your young one is listening for, in a stunning setting close to home.

    Emergencies can happen — be prepared

    During an emergency, your family (including pets) needs a 72-hour emergency kit and a plan for how you will communicate. Emergencies might include storms, power outages or even public health measures. See the Emergency Management Ontario website for everything you need to guide you, including activities to get the kids involved, such as the 72-hour emergency kit Bingo game. Be prepared and be safe this winter!

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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