As a child, I always thought it was quite weird having such a small family; I was almost embarrassed about having only 3 cousins when all my friends seemed to have about 57; mysterious family members from up and down the country who sent copious presents at Christmases and birthdays, but didn’t often seem to materialise in person. I now see how lucky I am to have such a small and close-knit family, a family where we know what each other like to eat and where we’re going on holiday, and this weekend – when my Dad’s oldest sister, my Auntie Anne, is in hospital following a lengthy operation – I am particularly grateful for my two aunties.
My family doesn’t seem to have been blessed with the best of health (we often wonder what we did in a previous life to deserve such trials in this one) but my Auntie Anne and my Auntie Rosie, my Dad’s twin, are both shining examples of strength and determination, of wonderfully strong women who are so full of love for all of those around them that they won’t let anything stop them.
My first memories of my Auntie Anne are playing with her beautiful dolls house, admiring each delicately wallpapered room, marvelling at all the tiny furniture and intricate details within. This perfect little house mirrors Anne’s own, where you will find not one speck of dust and where every wall and surface is adorned with carefully selected artefacts: my Uncle Keith’s beloved vintage railway signs, beautiful antique china sets, a perfectly restored oak haberdashers box. A visit to Anne and Keith’s home is never anything short of a culinary extravaganza: Anne loves to cook and to host, showers us in the lightest of sponge cakes, the tastiest of meals, and even records the dishes she’s served to different people in a special book, to ensure she doesn’t repeat a menu for the same person. Nobody leaves without a plump foil parcel of goodies and an even plumper belly.
Despite being very petite, Anne gives the tightest, most powerful hugs; she is so bursting with love for all her family members, and so interested in every aspect of our lives. I absolutely adore receiving a card or letter in the post from her, detailing the adventures herself and Keith have been on, the improvements they’ve made in the garden, or the delicious new discovery they’ve made in M&S food. Anne is an academic, she loves writing, history and literature (but always has time for a good ‘trash mag’ too), and worked so hard to gain her doctorate; I loved being able to talk about my English degree with her.
When Mum became ill, Anne did as she always does and carried on: bringing her warm, jolly voice, her stories from home and a plethora of presents for Mum: a nail varnish, a shower gel, a beautiful powder blue jumper with sparkly shoulders. We definitely tried to adopt the head-in-sand approach for a lot of the time with Mum’s illness, but on one occasion, as Anne and Keith went to drive me to the station, Anne could see that I was about to crack. She sat in the back of the car with me and held me as I sobbed; telling me how well I was doing and how proud she was of me. I wanted nothing more than to stay in the back of that car all the way home.
Similarly, my Auntie Rosie, who comes from a nursing background, threw herself into helping care for Mum. Despite not being in the best of health herself, she couldn’t have done more to help out, and it is something I will never forget. Rosie was up and down to Mum and Dad’s house almost as often as me; always there with a smile and a colourful outfit (I love how she always carefully picks something jolly to wear when visiting someone who might not be feeling so jolly), with an infinite library of positive thoughts and practical help (regardless of how often we all told her to stop cleaning and sit down!). She was there with us when Mum became really poorly; there to make me a salad that I might feel like eating, to sit in the front room sewing bright and colourful bunting for me to hang in the London flat I had haphazardly moved into; and there when Mum died, to say God Bless and to suggest we all have a cup of tea. We couldn’t have gone through that time without Rosie there.
Rosie is such a gentle and caring person, is always willing to step up and help others regardless of who they are or how arduous the task in hand. Rosie loves her beautiful cottage, her cats and her garden. She is a wonderfully skilled seamstress, makes adorable children’s clothing, quilts, curtains, even a cycling top for my cousin Bobby (is it finished yet or does it still resemble a cape?!).
We share a very similar sense of humour, love nothing more than laughing together about the same trashy TV programmes, texting about such insignificant things as Poundland stocking a new type of toilet roll (it was on TV, don’t judge us) or nagging my Dad about something ridiculous. We are both at Dad’s house often, and therefore spend many of our Sundays together whilst Dad volunteers at the hospice; walking around the shops laughing at hideous pieces of furniture, spending hours trying to choose the perfect tupperware lunchbox, preparing delicious lunches and sitting down to watch something silly on TV.
If anything at all positive came from my Mum’s illness, it’s that it brought our family even closer together. And what I absolutely love more than anything about my aunties is how they thought of, and think of, my Mum as their own sister. I’m just devastated that they had to lose a sister so soon. I’m so grateful to have these two women in my life, to know that I could pick up the phone and talk to them any time, that I could go to them with a problem and they’d do their best to solve it. I’d take the two of them over 57 cousins any day.