Family Portraits #1: Aunt Eileen

Written at the kind invitation of Jennifer Dukes Lee for the High Calling’s group writing project. The assignment? Describe someone from your childhood who influenced you in some way, either positively or negatively. Use lots of detail and keep it to 300-500 words. If you’d like to join in, hop over to this post at Jennifer’s site:

 Photo taken two years ago this month, October 2009. Such a sweet face, such a dear aunt.

To me, she was beauty and grace personified. She was fun and flirty, blond and soft-spoken, with a lovely soprano singing voice. She had a great laugh and she wore cat’s eye glasses through which her eyes always twinkled.

My mom was the second of my grandmother’s four kids, and Eileen was the baby. Mom got about 99% of all the drive in that quartet and Eileen? Well, Eileen was a softer person than my mom in many ways.* My mom wanted our rooms, including the woodwork, scrubbed every Saturday. Eileen didn’t seem to notice or care all that much. She lived with orange crates for furniture for a lotta years, and I found that charming somehow.

Eileen married a big bear of a man, whom she adored. I can see my aunt looking lovingly at my Uncle Chuck to this day, the two of them dancing to love songs that they sang to each other at our family gatherings. I loved watching them.

I was a weird duck as a kid, but she loved me anyhow. I read all the time. Always a book – sprawled on the couch, in the bathroom, even while brushing my teeth. There was usually one propped on my white wooden chest of drawers while I languidly dressed for school each morning, and another one under the covers at night, read by flashlight. That love of books came from my mom, but a very different kind of reading love came from Aunt Eileen: Hollywood glamour magazines.

So delicious, so forbidden! When we went to their house, I knew exactly where she kept them and I’d take a stack, throw myself across their bed and start reading, from cover to cover. My mom would not abide such things in our home, so this was my chance! And I took advantage of that chance every single time.

Mom always wanted me to be ‘more social, interact with people!’ But I preferred reading about starlets and limousines. And Aunt Eileen breezily told my mother to leave me alone. An aunt who was an ally – who could ask for more? Especially when gossip columns were there for the reading.

You see, I was too tall, too bookish, too awkward when I was growing up. My mom worried a lot, transmitting those worries to me in such a way that I became terribly self-conscious. For my aunt, however… Well sure, I was a tall girl. And I did like to read an awful lot, but … I was interesting. I was a bit of a puzzle and she was intrigued. Perhaps because she didn’t have to raise me, she could look at me in a more disinterested way. She liked what she saw and I knew it. Can you imagine what a priceless gift that is for an insecure young girl?

I love you, Aunt Eileen, and I thank you for loving me even in my weird duck-ness!

*Lest you think my mom was a harsh person, may I refer you to this post, which talks about her in a more fully-orbed way.

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  1. Oh, Diana! I would have loved your Aunt Eileen. You’ve captured her so vividly with her cat’s eye glasses and her Hollywood glamour magazines. She liked what she saw in you. And I do, too!

  2. What a sweet portrait, Diana.

  3. She sounds just wonderful Diana. Yes – what a gift to have an ally when you’re feeling all the awkwardness of those teenage years. You’ve made her come alive through your writing.

    It was such a delight to meet you. Aunt Eileen must have been very pleased with the beautiful, self-assured woman you grew into.

  4. Thank you Diana , I loved this and will share with my mom when I get home. Brought tears and laughter. Emotions are at the surface with the passing of Jerrys mom today

  5. Your Aunt Eileen sounds like a remarkable woman! How wonderful to have had such an ally in the family… someone who loved you as you were. That unconditional acceptance is priceless.

  6. I can’t picture you as an odd duck… but like sweet Sarah said…”just because I feel that way doesn’t mean it’s true!” That did make me chuckle when she said it. Thank heaven for allies… no matter what form they come in.
    Beautiful write on your lovely aunt!

  7. Diana,
    I see the young me in the young you…though my mom was a bit of a composite of your mom and Eileen, from the bits you shared here.

    Thanks for this lovely picture of a loving auntie.

  8. “An aunt who was an ally” … I love that, dear heart.

    I want to be THAT aunt for my nephews right now. You’ve reminded me of that here … what it means to be available and supportive and nurturing.

    I’ve really enjoyed “meeting” your Aunt Eileen. Thank you, friend, for introducing us.

  9. I love imagining you with a book propped open while brushing your teeth. No wonder I love you so much.

    I gave my sermon tonight, Diana! It went very well. I had the toughest evaluator and she was very complimentary and gave good feedback. It was good. Thanks for your tip–I kept it simple–ONE THING!

    Now, I know the Holy Spirit really comes through :)>

  10. Oh friends, thanks for your kind words. And believe it or not, this experience happened between the ages of about 5 and 11, when we lived only 3 blocks apart. After my family moved away from the San Fernando Valley, we didn’t see as much of each other and I never again read those magazines!

    (Until, of course – and this is likely to shock you! – I was a charter member of the subscription club to People Magazine when it was created! Kept it up right through this year, arguing that it kept me ‘in touch with the culture’ during my pastoral years. Yeah, right. :>) But now, I’m just bored with it and fed up – probably because I’m getting too old to recognize so many of the folks they write about!!

    Laura! Hooray for the sermon success! I had no doubt that you would ace it. Would love to read it, if you’re willing. :>)

  11. I love this–we learn about you while we learn about Eileen.

    Love the image of you sprawled out reading Hollywood glamor magazines–and the image of her standing up for your right to flip through them.

    So glad you linked up to the Community Writing Project!

  12. Cat’s eye glasses? I thought those only existed in those movie magazines you read as a child.

    This was beautiful Diana. Great detail.

  13. Beautiful description of your Aunt. She sounds like the kind of Aunt all of would love to have.

  14. What a FUN aunt with her kewl glasses, crates, and mags! Love her! Great job in the telling!