Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Aunty Margaret

Aunty Margaret is a force of nature. She is my Dad's sister-in-law, married to my Uncle Barty. She is a formidable woman: honest, Christian, hard-working and straight talking. As a child she absolutely terrified me. As an adult I can see she has no hard edges at all. She is marshmallow soft under all her grit and bluster.

Aunty Margaret was a Northern Cinderella. She was never the most glamorous or prettiest girl. Shamefully, Uncle Barty's two sisters thought her not good enough for him because of this. Barty was matinee idol handsome, and a war hero to boot. The sisters bullied her, she did all their chores while they flounced around, going to dances and painting their fingernails like Colliery prima donnas.

Uncle Barty was the only man Margaret ever loved. They married, but tragically they never had children. They both loved children and lavished time and attention on nieces, nephews and neighbours' children. To this day, in her 80s, Aunty Margaret is 'Aunty' to dozens of grown-up children and she still finds the time and energy to babysit for local little-ones. Barty contracted lung disease 20 years ago, it was a harrowing, long-drawn out illness. Margaret nursed him at home, to the end, without the help of the two sisters who thought her so unsuitable and unworthy.

I admire Aunty Margaret most for the full and happy life she built for herself after Barty died. She is surrounded by loving friends, and is rarely at home when I call her. She talks about Barty all the time, and is always insistent that there never could have been anyone else for her. She is never maudlin or self-pitying, she humbly considers herself lucky to have had so many years of happiness with her husband.

When I think of my dad and my mum, or Aunty Margaret and Uncle Barty, I think of incredibly strong, passionate romantic connections. Trusting, gentle relationships that were tested by illness, war, extreme hardship and death, but were never compromised. They are my templates.

How is it that the thing that they made seem so effortless is the one thing that eludes me? I often wish I lived in a time of simpler values.

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