Six Things I Learned From My Aunts

The aunts from whom I learned.
My mother and her sisters, minus a sister who died in 1955. In this 1992 photo, they were 75-86.

Truth be told, I learned more from my aunts than I ever realized at the time.

These aunts of mine (both maternal and paternal) were a stoic bunch. For the most part, they were German-Swiss stock with an ancestry that portrayed family partings from one country to another, never to see family members again. A family rich in Christian faith and trust, they were a family who descended, in part, from survivors of an Indian massacre in 1757. Several of my paternal aunts were raised by their father and older siblings after the sudden death of their mother. My maternal aunts lost a sister to an aneurysm and later a brother (both suddenly) many years before. All of them experienced hardship and heartbreak at some point in their lives. They were strong and stoic. They were courageous and caring. They mentored and mothered. They persevered and they prayed.

All of them are gone. There are days I wish I could sit at Aunt Verda’s laden table for Sunday dinner again, or watch Aunt Della’s eyes twinkle when she heard our laughter. I wish I could visit with Aunt Annie and see her smile, or look into Aunt Myra’s true blue eyes and feel her hug. I miss Aunt Mabel’s gentle regalness and Aunt Alma’s teaching, although at the time I didn’t appreciate her knowledge of the Bible. How I’d enjoy hearing Aunt Kate share her poetry or hear Aunt Rhoda and Aunt Edna tell stories of life when they were children.

Like Emily in Our Town, it’s impossible to go back and live those days over. I wonder what I’d discover if I could go back and re-live one of those days.

You know that feeling?

Some days it seems the world would just be better if I could look into one of their eyes, or hear those voices again. Even though they could do nothing about what’s happening in my world, just being there would make a difference.

I learned that doing what one ought to do, and doing it well, was praise enough.

While my aunts expressed appreciation, they were not quick to compliment or praise for talent or ability. Appreciation for a job well done, affirmation for character traits that were important, yes. But lavish praise? No. For after all, “self-pride stinks.” Satisfaction for a job well done should be reward enough, they would say. We didn’t need lavish praise for doing what we ought to have done in the first place. When a need was evident, they stepped up to bat and found a way to help meet the need without expecting praise, because that’s what families do. I learned that there is no better reward for a job well done than the satisfaction that comes from knowing I did it right, I did it on time, and I did it well. That was praise enough.

Even though money was tight and their possessions were few, they were hospitable. There was always room for one or two or three more at their table. When they had uninvited guests in their home, one would never have guessed they weren’t expecting company. There was preparation ahead of time, especially for Sundays, so there was always more than enough to go around. Any one of us would have been welcome in their homes at any time, and we knew it. I learned that hospitality is more than doing. It is being. I learned that preparation is an important part of hosting, but hospitality comes from the heart.

My aunts were not prone to gossip. I still find it hard to believe the things that were never mentioned to others. They shared secrets in their diaries, but no place else. Anything shared in confidence stayed there. All of them grew up in the home a minister, and several of my aunts had spouses involved in church ministry. What happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors, and there was no finagling to obtain information from any one of them (ask me how I know!) Many secrets, I am certain, they carried with them to their graves. I learned that gossip does not a friend make and that it’s nice to have folks with whom one’s secrets are safe.

I learned that stability is stronger than panic.

When there was a crisis in the community or in the family, I didn’t see my aunts cringe or become ruffled easily. They remained calm, did what had to be done, and provided stability along the way. They managed to get things done without flaunting what they were doing. I experienced that quiet care and endurance as a child and grew to appreciate it even more as I got older. I learned that stability in distress is stronger than panic.

None of my aunts were extravagant. Their homes, clothing, and pocketbooks were orderly and clean. They always knew which side of the pocketbook held the Chapstick or Rosebud Salve. They could whip out a checkbook without searching in the bottom of a purse, for it was exactly where they always kept it. I learned that tidiness includes your pocketbook.

I remember the evening during visitation after a heart attack claimed the life of an uncle. There had been no warning and no time to say goodbye. I watched them, the sisters, my aunts. There were glimmers of tears in their eyes, but no weeping or wailing. How could I possibly handle the death of a sibling with such grace? I wondered.

Underneath their tears was a calm, serene emotion. This was life. Through their grief ran a chord of trust and faith in God. Underlying their sorrow was Truth. God was faithful. He had been faithful in their past. He was faithful today. He would be there in their tomorrows. Their unconditional trust in the sovereignty of God steadied them in their grief.

I learned from my aunts that sorrow does not need to break me.

That is why my aunts could sing in times of sorrow. They had tested the promises of God and found them true, Every Single Time. As a young child, I didn’t understand that faith because I had not yet experienced it myself. I learned that a deep, settled faith comes from years of walking with God and trusting Him when life doesn’t seem fair or doesn’t make sense. 

from my aunts, I learned to be strong

Looking back, I realize the things I learned from my aunts were caught as much as they were taught. It gives me pause. It gives me grateful praise.

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