Why We Love Our Aunts


We love our aunts because aunts are cool. Aunts laugh easily. Aunts are always ready with a hug. Aunts can level with us. Aunts knew us before we knew ourselves. Aunts understand.

We love our aunts because our aunts are not our moms. Not that we don’t love our moms. But the mother-child relationship is a complex stew, one that nourishes and, at times, boils over. Aunts are chicken soup.

We love our aunts because they allow us to see our mom or dad as a sister or brother. They reveal that person from long ago, foreign yet familiar. They make our parents more human, more like us.

The word aunt derives from the Latin amita, a diminutive of amma, which is baby talk for mom. The etymology reflects an age-old truth: there’s a lot of mom in our aunts. Just the right amount, I think.

I grew up in the embrace of an extended Italian family and was blessed with three loving aunts: Grace and Rita and Marie. They were ever-present in my childhood: at my grandfather’s baby clothes store on Federal Hill; at the beach house on Elizabeth Road in Narragansett; around the piano on holidays, singing show tunes and Christmas carols; at our front door whenever my mom needed them.

As a boy, I never liked sleeping over at friends’ houses. But staying with one of my aunts was different; it felt like home.

*     *     *

The song Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In by The Fifth Dimension topped the charts for six weeks during the spring of 1969 and helped spark an interest in astrology among my mom and her sisters. My Aunt Marie and I both have February birthdays, and she was quick to point out that we were fellow Aquarians. “We understand each other,” she told me. “We’re beautiful people.” I don’t know that either of us believed much in astrology. But I believed in Auntie Marie. And for good reason.

Key milestones in my life – college graduation, the day I got married, the death of my father, when my children were born – are marked by notes from Auntie Marie. Her words are always filled with sensitivity and support – or, as the song goes, “harmony and understanding, sympathy and love abounding.” 

We love our aunts because, as Joyce wrote in Ulysses, “love loves to love love.”

For Auntie Marie, with love and gratitude.

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