Aunties are a special breed. They are our mothers’ sisters, but friends and cousins can also be aunties. Your aunt is the woman who steps in when your mom isn’t there. The woman who gives your mom a break so that she can recharge. The woman who knows you as intimately as your parents do, but from a different angle.
Aunties are sometimes moms in their own right, but not always. In their way, even women who have not borne children are mothers. They are the mothers of us all, freed up to fill in the gaps that are inevitable in parenting in today’s world.
Author Brenda Child told ICTMN in an interview earlier this year that she was once asked what role a childless woman had in traditional Ojibwe society. The question flummoxed her.
“In western society, motherhood was so important to a women’s identity,” Child said. “But it’s hard to imagine, almost, a childless Ojibwe woman … because of the construction of the family before reservations.”
An Ojibwe woman without her own children would be a “mother” to her siblings’ children and other children in the community, Child explained. “It was nearly impossible for an Ojibwe woman to be ‘childless.’ ”
The comments that readers left on Facebook and on our appeal for stories about your aunties and moms (read the latter here) were testimony to that fact.
“ ‘Auntie moms’ are the best,” wrote Richard Stonechild on Facebook. "Growing up, they know when you need a hug. Getting older, they know when you need a friend. They really shine through with all their love when it comes time for Mom to leave.”
Carol Beavert had a list of aunties to thank, starting with her Aunt Frieda.
“When my mother passed away in '96, my Aunt Frieda was there for me,” she wrote. “I could call her any time day or night, and she'd listen to me no matter what! I love and miss her.”
Aunt Anna, the only aunt left on Beavert’s mother’s side, is “always there when needed for everyone in the family, our elder now.” Then there’s Wilma, a great cousin, “always there for her niece, who calls her Mom. She’s a great mom and grandma and cousin.
“My Aunt Juanita is very loving and fragile at 8? but still goes to church,” Beavert continued. “She’s my dad’s first cousin, they were raised as one family. My other aunt from Dad’s side, Auntie Lena, a great teacher and loving aunt!”
Angela Cherny remembered her “very special” Aunties Linda and Shirley.
“Both my mother and father have passed, and they have jumped in to fill a void for us,” she wrote. “They are active in our family events, have created close friendships with us and provide us with a link to our family that we would sorely miss if they were not there. They are beautiful, wonderful women, and I for one wish them the best Mother's Day in the world!”
Ruth Hopkins, who writes for Indian Country Today Media Network, credits an aunt for her success.
“My Aunt Geraldine had a profound effect on my life,” Hopkins wrote on Facebook. “I was a rebellious teenager. My parents didn't know what to do with me, so they sent me to stay with her. She dried me out, made me eat, got me up at sunrise everyday, and cared enough about me to be tough on me and set high expectations. She was firm, but loving. Her hugs were the best, as was her menudo. She never backed down from anyone. She said it was okay for me to be strong-willed and driven—that I just lacked purpose and direction. I wanted to be like her.”
Her aunt’s passing only galvanized her further.
“Auntie Geraldine was one of the first people who told me that I should plan for the future and go to college,” Hopkins wrote. “An hour before a Biology II Final my first year at the University of North Dakota, I got the call that she had passed away. I sucked it up, and with tears in my eyes I went into a crowded lecture hall, full of non-Indians, and aced that final exam. I did it for her. It was what she would have wanted. I miss her everyday. I can't thank her enough for what she did for me.”
Happy Mother's Day Aunties, and thanks for being there!