For many people, the term “Great Aunt or Uncle” may mean elderly relatives that you visit dutifully every so often for tea, biscuits and a nice chat. For me, having no Aunts, Uncles or first cousins, the term “Great” meant ‘terrific”. I am fortunate in that my memories of Auntie Jean and Uncle Herb are associated with celebrations, fun and the beach. In particular we loved our visits to Carrum where we would head out the back gate to the beach and swim in all kinds of weather. Afterwards, we would race back to the house for something to eat and before setting off for the long drive home, Auntie Jean would whip up a batch of delicious scones. We enjoyed all sorts of occasions together and I have the feeling that I might have had my first sip of champagne to celebrate R and K’s engagement. I certainly remember having oysters for the first time and champagne at J’s wedding, which was again celebrated by a beach.
Auntie Jean was very special to Mum and she saw a lot of her when she was young, being my grandmother’s only surviving sister. Grandma and Auntie Jean were close and I remember the support that she provided Grandma during Uncle Bill’s final illness. Uncle Herb was always the genial host at family gatherings and I remember him gently teasing Mum about being her “illegal guardian”, calling her “Marmee” and referring to my unborn brother as “Sebastian”. He was like a father figure to Mum, having lost her own at a young age, and this realationship extended to him giving her away at her wedding. Although he was not there for my wedding, Auntie Jean made our day special by lending me the diamond earrings to make up my set of old, new, borrowed and blue.
Other clear memories of the good times we had are R’s birthday parties at Melbourne Zoo, barbeques around the pool at North Balwyn, Auntie Jean’s trifle, a week spent at Carrum over school holidays, the family visiting the new born K in hospital and our mass family christening. The only dark time was the terrible shock of Uncle Herb’s sudden and untimely death and the devastating effect on our family, particularly my mother.
While time moved on and Auntie Jean’s health deteriorated, visits were still special. These included a family Christmas at our last house and Auntie Jean’s 80th birthday celebration (although I think I remember her not being impressed about turning 80). Until the last year or so, I know Auntie Jean recognised Stos and I when we saw her and with J and R, we usually tried to get out of the nursing home for a coffee or lunch. If the offer of a glass of French champagne was made, she would spark up immediately, which always raised a laugh. More recently I remember visiting with R, having been told on the way there that J had given instructions that we had to do Auntie Jean’s hair as she had missed the hairdresser's visit that week. With Stos heating up the rollers, R and I exercised our non-existent hairdressing skills on a very patient and tolerant Auntie Jean, until she was rescued by a staff member who knew how to put rollers in the right way around. We still haven't told J that the presentable hairstyle was courtesy of Y.
I will miss my lovely Aunt but can look back and remember the good times. I am lucky that there were a lot of them.