My Mother on the left, Aunt Agnes on right, her brother in the middle
Those with more receding years behind than advancing years in front, might still remember visiting Aunts and their endless talk about illnesses and ailments. As a child it made me almost sick having to accompany our parents to visit ancient Aunts. My hair would be duly roughly brushed up and my nails scraped clean. I had to wash my hands. For some reason, they were all called Aunts, even when not related. I think my parents underestimated my observation skill in detecting lies.
On top of everything else, we were forced to kiss them on arrival and again on departure. One Aunt had facial hairs sprouting, another a permanently dripping nose. I was bored shitless and had to sit still. I remember passing time staring at Aunts and listening to their litany of ailments with detailed frailties enthusiastically regaled in all its minutia. My mother told us a very old Aunt sat on a chair that held a toilet. We were strictly forbidden to stare at this. Of course we stared at nothing else. We never forgot anything to do with toilets.
We had one Aunt running a grocery shop in Eindhoven. A couple of lollies did relieve the visits somewhat, but only just. She had a very large and frightening nose. Another Aunt was better and used to send me cut-out copies of a very favourite Newspaper strip, ‘Erik de Noorsman’ or ‘Eric The Norseman.’ She was Aunt Agnes and very kind. No hairs that I remember!
It was when I turned twelve or so that those obligatory visits were finally done away with. I became stronger in my resistance but am sure it left permanent damage.
Of course, migrating to Australia when I turned fifteen, pushed all visits to Aunts permanently into the annals of our family, even though a couple of Aunts did visit us in Australia.
Seventy years later and the shoe now fits the other foot. However, even though I am still no Aunt, I have facial hair. No toilet built into my fauteuil as yet. I do consider my grandkids. I love seeing them, but leave them mainly to their own devices when here. I have taken to reading again those crime stories by Henning Mankell. I was a third down reading one, when the book just vanished. I turned the whole bedroom upside down. It got taken by someone, and I reckon the fifteen year old grandson snitched it. I am so proud if he did. Stealing books is to be encouraged. I don’t want to ask him. In fact, if the book is stolen, I will leave another Mankell (unobtrusively) again for next time.
This is what was lacking in those time long gone visits. Kids were expected to behave. Why did they not give books or toys to kids visiting aunts? Where were the uncles? I cannot remember a single uncle. Did the war claim them? Was it smoking related? Where did they go?. In jail perhaps? How odd.
It now reminds me of ‘The Book Thief.’ Life during those Aunt visit seems to have stood still. Yet, it is all so magically and reverently coming to the fore now. I read a book about the Death of a Moth and named our flower shop in Sydney’s Balmain, ‘Bloomsbury.’ Bloomsbury was a group of English writers, philosophers, intellectuals and eccentrics that included amongst many, Virginia Woolf.
The simple and inevitability of life. How wonderful.