I have a favorite aunt; I shouldn’t say that because my other aunts might be offended, but, I can’t help it, she is my favorite. She is more than an aunt to me; she is also my godmother. Growing up we didn’t live near any family. Some were in Ireland, others in the city and a couple a little over an hour away, in another state. Growing up I spent much more time with my mom’s sisters, just about every other weekend. Though I spent a lot of time there, I can’t say we had a very close relationship. We were there so my mother could visit with them. The kids just played outside, in my cousins’ room, or in the basement. I didn’t see as much of her except on vacations or holidays. My close relationship with the aunt in question came about because of words, her words specifically.
Thank you notes, invitations, birthday cards, condolences, legal and business letters, letters overseas, Mom felt writing letters was extremely important. It became so ingrained in how I functioned that in college, I wrote a thank you card to a florist who gave every member of the choir a plant (I still have mine) and gave it to the director since I didn’t have an address. I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I went to choir afterward and he berated the entire group because I was the only one who had written one. People don’t write letters today and, I confess, I am not the best with snail mail either anymore. But my profound appreciation for my aunt came out of her letters.
Underneath my mother’s desk in her room was a double drawered file cabinet. In it, among other things, was an entire section of files with cards for different occasions. She was never without a card to send someone. She had a roll of stamps perpetually in her top drawer – they used to be 18 cents. When we went away to camp, my dad’s, a missions trip, college, trade school, the marines, and to our apartments as adults, Mom was our most faithful letter writer. She never forgot to remember my brother or me. I’d get random cards, often decorated with her cartoon animals making amusing comments on the back. If one of us were gone for a long time, she’d send care packages, also decorated with cartoon animals. There was a dog (Scotty I think), a cat, a pig, and a bird. Occasionally, she would include some extra character, but those were usually added to further whatever ridiculous plot line she had drawn on the back. The envelope was almost as fun as the letter.
At sixteen I went on a missions trip to construct a building for a school in Jamaica and work in an orphanage. It was the year of the first American dream basketball team in the summer Olympics. I was very upset about missing the games, but mom, who had grown up in the time before tv and could appreciate a good sports announcer, would write me play-by-play letters with all the commentary. She sat through every single game to write what was happening so that I could come as close to experiencing as possible. I read them over and over. I wish I still had those letters, any letters. I’m ashamed to say that during a rough patch, I threw away the notes I had saved for so long from Mom, and as a result, her envelope pets are lost forever. What I wouldn’t give to see them again.
Sometimes Mom would be compelled to drop a line for no reason at all. I believe those were times God was calling her to minister to other people. She did, faithfully. She was the first one to write to a manager to tell them about a great experience with an employee. In this way, the power of words was impressed on me early. As an adult with children of my own, Mom was the one sending cards to my children. She sent them all the time even though we saw her almost every day and she lived only a seven minute’s drive from her place. She said it was because it was “nice to get something in the mail.” She was right; my kids loved her notes. My aunts also wrote letters for the holidays and birthdays, but I can’t say they stuck out as much until after my mother died.
Besides retraining myself not to pick up the phone to call her ten times a day, one of the heart-wrenching parts of losing Mom was that the letters stopped. The kids noticed too. They would eagerly check the mailbox only to be disappointed at its emptiness again and again. Then, one day, three letters the same size came for each of the kids and one long one for me. They were for some random calendar holiday that no one really pays attention to like national donut day. Mine had a brief note and some clippings from one of those grocery-store women’s magazines full of chicken soup stories to encourage me. That was only the beginning. Over the last nine years, my aunt has written note after note for everything from Happy Easter to the start of school and everything in between. The kids run in smiling every time a card from her comes. Every time I get a letter and see the return address, I can’t help but grin because I know there will be something interesting inside. I’ve gotten encouraging words, info about scams, interesting articles, scratch off lotto tickets and so much more. The thing that touches us the most is that she never forgets. She remembers every birthday and every big event. We email each other every few days, but she still sends letters and cards we can hold in our hands.
We aren’t a real mushy family. We don’t spill our feelings all the time. I don’t even know if my aunt knows what an enormous hole she filled in my heart; I’m not sure if she will ever know how grateful I am that she lets my children know they are loved, even if we don’t see each other often. Like a modern-day Mordecai, my aunt has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement for my entire family, and she is my heart.
“And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom–words of goodwill and assurance” Esther 9:30