As I have been working on a quilt for my great-nephew, I can’t help but think about my own great aunts — whatever few of them I have known.
They were bit players. In fact, if I am on the stage of my own life, my great aunts were not in orchestra seats. Not even Main Floor or Mezzanine. They were in the Second Balcony. I could barely see them.
But they were up there applauding.
Aunt Julie, my maternal Grandma’s youngest sister was possibly the sweetest woman I’d ever known. I can’t picture her face without a lovely smile. I never saw her when she wasn’t smiling — at least at me. Her daughter died of a heart attack at the age of 27, leaving behind a young daughter of her own. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 at the time.
I also had a Great Great Aunt. My paternal great-grandmother’s sister. Very Polish. She lived near 26th and California and if you know anything about Chicago, you know that even 40 years ago that neighborhood was very old. Every time we climbed that long wooden staircase above the sidewalk up to the front door, I feared it might collapse.
When she saw me, she smiled and dug into her weathered coin purse to slip me a few coins.
“You get ice cream,” she said in her heavy accent, smiling as she pressed the money into my hand.
I have tried many times to explain to my son that there are many people in this world who love him, whose names he doesn’t even know. They include extended family and friends, neighbors, my husband’s father’s wife’s family (it sounds more complicated than it is), our parents’ friends, and on and on.
Now it’s time for me to be the Great Aunt, separated by a couple of generations. Second Balcony, here I come.
And I’ll be applauding so wildly I just might fall off.