A while back Emily wrote a piece about her “fun aunt.” A woman whose penchant for crazy refrigerator magnets and homemade holiday fascinators was rivaled only by her love of spoiling her nieces. Since my mother has four sisters, statistics would suggest that one of those women would fit squarely into the fun aunt archetype. Math, you win again!
The crappy thing is my fun aunt had a little too much fun, which meant there were years when fun trumped family. Still, I’ll never forget when 8-year-old Helena asked her what “masturbate” meant and she answered unblinkingly. But when she’d regularly go missing down the rabbit hole of big fun, another aunt stepped in as my how-to-be-a-woman Yoda: the fabulous aunt.
Me as my fun aunt.
Like the fun aunt but with a checking and savings account, the fabulous aunt is a woman who takes life straight up with a twist. When my fun aunt was “moving” from place to place in the middle of the night, my fabulous aunt had a mortgage. We ate $1 Chinese take-out on the floor at my fun aunt’s apartment and my fabulous aunt introduced me to Brussels sprouts on fine china at her dining room table. My fun aunt had boyfriends — my fabulous aunt had husbands.
My fabulous aunt wouldn’t be caught dead in “tennis shoes.” To this day, she can’t imagine wearing anything “without a little heel.” She has a purseand a hat to match every single outfit she owns. She’s also the only person I know who still wears outfits unironically and unapologetically.
Me as my fabulous aunt.
Last week, my fabulous aunt came to visit DC from California and I got to show her around for the day. When I picked her up from the W hotel (naturally) she had on a full-length fur coat (“People keep complimenting me! I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s fake”), a perfect French manicure, a gold ring on every finger, a walking cane and two-inch leather boots. The entire ensemble was very church lady turned madam. She’s 69-years-old.
“Why didn’t you wear sneakers?!” I asked, calculating the amount of ground we planned to cover.
“Oh, I wore those things yesterday and my feet were killing me by the end of the day. Heels are better,” she said, strutting to the entrance as if she knew exactly where to go.
The last time I can remember spending a full day with my fabulous aunt, just the two of us, I was 9 and she took me shopping. My mother hates stores on principal. She refuses to try things on, abhors lines and “browsing.” My fab aunt, on the other hand, can bring an outlet mall to its knees.
She bought me two outfits that I wore to pieces — pink denim pants with a short matching jacket that had a heart cut-out in the back (you die!) and black leggings with a sheer pleated skirt attached and a sweater and HAT to match. That day was epic.
After dragging her all over DC, my fabulous aunt and I sat down to dinner. She’s so tiny now. Maybe 5’3” in those heels she loves so much. She asked what aioli was, then laughed when I said “fancy mayonnaise” and ordered something she “could figure out.” I’ve never seen her drink, but she said wine would be good. Apparently she loves Arbor Mist. We ordered pinot grigio.
Watching my aunt disappear through the doors of her hotel, I smiled to myself thinking of how much I had admired her growing up. My boyfriend called her sweet and I laughed. She was way more than that. She was smart, beautiful and independent. She showed up places on time, put together and ready to run things if need be. Her voice is high but her speech direct. When things fell apart at my house as they sometimes did when I was a kid, I’d dream of someday being like her. Settled. Normal.
She called the next day to say she had a fabulous time with me.