"What do you mean? Aunt Ruthie is not really my aunt?" I was saddened by the revelation and a bit confused. Why would my mom refer to this woman as Aunt Ruthie..when in fact it was not her sister, not her sister-in-law, and not related to us in any way?! Ruthie was just her friend. But that's where I was wrong. Ruthie was not "just" her friend.
They had known each other for many years; actually atttended high school together. They shared their most intimate secrets, shared meals, sleep-overs, and it did not stop there. Ruthie was one of the 2 bridesmaids on my mom's wedding day. It was further explained that they shared letters from their husbands, which they received while a war was being fought overseas. I got it. There was no need to explain further..Ruthie was very special. She was never "just" a friend. She was like a sister! My calling her 'Aunt Ruthie' was justifiable. I went to the wake with my family that night, having a better understanding of who Aunt Ruthie actually [was.]
The following day, I made a list of people that I had believed, (my entire 10 years of life) to have been related to me in some way. Uncle Joe and Aunt Susie, Uncle Larry and Aunt Sonia headed the list. They were fun people. They were young. I always had a suspicion that they were not related to us. They were too cool. Next to their names, I placed an 'x'. My Aunt Katherine and Uncle George followed. We were definitely related. Mom told me stories of how Aunt Katherine and she would bring their dad, who worked at the coal mines, hot coffee in a Thermos, at 10 am each day in the summertime. I placed a check mark next to their names.
Aunt Rose and Uncle Andy were also checked because my mom always referred to Aunt Rose as her youngest sister, whom she was forced to watch, as her friends played outside. But my list of aunts and uncles grew to be very long. Never before, had I thought that I had been lied [to.] There was no way the names on my list were all my relatives! For a ten year old, I now realized, that I was not very bright. How could I have been fooled for so long? and, more importantly..why did my parents give all these people the title of 'aunt' or 'uncle' when they were not?!
My list had 35 names on it! I found a picture which had been taken when my mom was 9 years old. It was a professionally taken family photo. I counted her siblings; including mom, seven in all! (Another great blog idea for another time.) Now, as adults, each was married. I did the math in my head. Fourteen. No way did it reach 35. But my dad had siblings, too! Four times 2 equals 8. Adding the 8 to the 14 and it still did not reach the 35 on the list. My parents and I needed to sit down and have a talk.
Dad was at work and mom dismissed my curiosity by telling me to go clean my room, or make my bed, or something that involved housework. (It always did!) When it was time to discuss this 'cover-up', my parents said, that most names on the list were good friends of theirs, and it was all about RESPECT. Huh? I was once again confused. I was nice to everyone on the list. Did she think I would not have treated them nicely if I just referred to them by their given names? I could have called Uncle Joe and Aunt Susie..Joe and Susie. But mom said that I could not do that.
Joe and Susie were not MY friends. They were dad's friends. They were older than me, and we were to show respect to them by ...what?!...PRETENDING they were something, which they were not?! I couldn't believe it! It was pointless. My mom and dad were insistent that I continue to call these people 'aunts and uncles', even though, I now knew the truth!
Like everything else, a 10 year old deems to be of utmost importance, it remained as such for a couple of days; then we started packing for our two week vacation, to Homer's Farm in Patchoque! As I grew older, and realized who was, and who was not, related, it no longer mattered to me. I loved all my parents' friends and neighbors from their 'early years.' As I continued calling them 'aunts and uncles,' I realized that it made them happy. I would have respected them even if they did not have that title before their name. But that's how things were done 'way back then.' It occurs to me, as I write this blog, that I have ONE aunt left from that list of 35 names. (All wonderful people..sorry they are gone.)
It was not a bad thing choosing to call my parents' friends..aunts and uncles. It was sweet, endearing, and respectful. I get it, now. It brought people, at least the people in my life, closer together.