Aunts, in particular & as beloved category

Susie Harder Loewen

My mother’s youngest sister died this week, at 91. So I’ve been thinking about her, my Aunt Susie, and gratitude swells as the memories gather. Her qualities of competence and hospitality and commitment to family. Memories of being junior bridesmaid at her wedding (though I mostly remember my dress), her hosting the gift-opening after my own wedding, and her house — of course — being the place we could drop our first child while rushing to the hospital for the birth of the second. It was Aunt Susie, not Mom, who taught me to sew, and I remember that week with them in their Winnipeg house, how patient and wise she was with her little girls. There was a sense of welcome about her, and as far as I was concerned, every expectation that the welcome should be there. Taking it for granted, I suppose. She was my aunt, after all.


Harder family (late 1930s?). My mother, Tina, standing far right; Aunt Susie seated beside their father.

She’s the last of them on my mother’s side — the last of The Aunts, I mean, a category all its own. (Mom, 98, the only one of her family still alive.) My mother had four sisters, thus we had the four aunts. As we got older and had families of our own, my siblings and I sometimes discussed and compared them, for The Aunts — the Harder aunts — seemed formidable women, strong was the word, and each in her own way, opinionated too.

I’ve noticed the role of aunts in fiction. Their usefulness as foil, as rescue. Just recently, for example, I read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, with its unconventional Aunt Izzy as contrast to Ursula’s traditional mother Sylvie. And in real life too — and I’m speaking generally here — aunts fill gaps mothers may not fill, provide near-hand models of other personalities to watch, perhaps emulate. Their faults become instructive as well, perhaps arouse appreciation for the mother one landed to. They belong to us, that’s the thing, they’re our heritage, but by virtue of connection plus difference, enlarge that heritage. Sharpen or soften it. Round it out. Sometimes, if they’re single professional women, they may tip a bit of money our way, which when we’re young and beginning, feels enormous. If we’re fortunate, they root for us, encourage, offer advice sought or unsought, in other words, freely help themselves to our lives, as we to theirs, and as a bonus, are interested in and involved with our children, and all this with less thanks in return than they deserve. Blessed be The Aunts!


15 thoughts on “Aunts, in particular & as beloved category

  1. Dora, so sorry to hear about the loss of your aunt. It always leaves a hole, but we have the memories, and they become more vivid when our loved ones leave us. we too are five sisters in our family, so my daughters have four aunts, some more involved than others in their lives. My mother had no sisters, but she had two aunts and a sister-in-law to whom we became close, and we share memories about them when we get together as sisters. A lovely blog post!

    • Yes, exactly, they become a source of conversation. Sometimes I wonder what nieces and nephews say about us when they get together! (Btw, Susie and Henry attended Jubilee for a time, but perhaps before you got there.)

    • So much of what you wrote resonated with my memories of one particular aunt. Tante Liesa. She was so dear to me. I still miss her.
      I feel inspired to write my memories of her and her many kindnesses to me after reading your tribute to aunts.
      Thank you.

  2. I loved this post, Dora as well as the one about your Aunt Gertrude. I have often considered the role my aunts had in shaping the kind of person I became. I had seven aunts, five on my Dad’s side and two on my mothers. Each in their own way influenced me greatly, some with their affirmation and praise, others with their critical thinking and outspoken opinions, some by being memory keepers – accumulating and sharing family histories, some by giving me wonderful books to read, and some by inspiring me with their dedication and accomplishments in their professional fields. One of my aunts who was a nurse was in the delivery room with my Mom when I was born, another took me on a trip to Europe when I was 14, one sewed me clothes when I was little, another babysat my children and one never fails to call or write me a note when I have something published. I still have five living aunties all in their eighties and nineties and they continue to support and inspire me. I have especially appreciated this since the death of my own mother. Thanks for this beautiful blog post and the reflections it prompted.

  3. Thank you Dora! I notice the family photo has five daughters and one son — a familiar narrative in my ancestry is “keep having children until you have a son”. My grandparents had eight daughters and one son so the value of daughters was sadly diminished. But those aunties are treasures to their nieces!

    • Thanks Ruth! Treasures indeed. In this family, there was a firstborn son who died. The younger son was adopted, child of a young single woman in the community, though he remained in connection with his birth mother.

  4. love this sentence: “They belong to us, that’s the thing, they’re our heritage, but by virtue of connection plus difference, enlarge that heritage.” I was not very close to my aunts, in general, although one of them certainly gave me succour when I was far from home at CBI at age 18. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of who I am, or can be, in the lives of my nieces and nephews.

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