Aunts are a mother, a sister and a best friend all rolled into one. I’m not making this up. I’m reading from a poem given to me by two nieces and a nephew. It’s hanging on my wall because I take the job seriously which means I invite one of these young people shopping at the busiest time of year. That would be my 25-year-old niece who can’t find anything to wear.
Being an aunt was easy when the kids were little. Swimming, water ice, movies, “stay up as late as you want and don’t tell your mother.”
Mothers, schmothers. Who needs them.
An aunt will give you cupcakes for breakfast.
But that was then, and this is now, and today a good aunt will trudge from Nordstrom’s to Bloomingdale’s, clear across the King of Prussia Mall, starving and limping. This niece, like the rest of my family, is petite, and we’re searching for clothes that aren’t too baggy, too long, too wide, too loud. It’s a tall order for a short person.
“We are not the problem,” she declares. The problem is designers who think clothes should be either cut-out and skin tight or big, boxy and blousy. She doesn’t want to be exposed like a peeled banana or covered-up like a melon.
We make a pact that we will not be allowed lunch, dinner, or rich red wine until she buys one new thing. We agree underwear is not a thing; the item must be visible from the outside.
Again I realize I take my job seriously. Mothers they can’t avoid. Grandmothers are visited, even if out of guilt. But aunts must strike out on their own and promise a different wiser woman to rely on. In this case it means shopping ‘til my fingers ache sliding through sale racks. I must secure one fabulous find that proves an aunt knows where to look.
“How about this,” I say, holding up a ruched grey knit dress I think is super cute. “Too much fabric, too dull a color, too tight,” she replies. We trudge.
We go to Neiman Marcus for a laugh at the price tags. We find a dickie. My niece doesn’t know what it is. I explain it’s an odd neck covering big in the sixties that slips inside a shirt in place of an under layer. The Beatles used to wear them, I add; it’s an easy solution for a dressed-up look. How wise am I!
And of course we find black, lots and lots of black, which we’re sick of. We’re hunting for the un-black along with the un-dickie.
Some years ago, in another store in another place, a young woman suddenly walked up to me and said, “Are you my aunt?”
Taken aback I gently said no. She thought I was a long-lost relative, perhaps one who would fill a void, even impart knowledge in an innocuous way not as annoying as her mother.
Hopeful and helpful, hip yet classy -- an aunt tries to pull off a delicate balancing act.
Finally, my lovely niece tries on “dressy” jeans, the trickiest item in a girl’s wardrobe. They must fit absolutely perfectly. She prances up and down, glances backward in every mirror, and I could kiss these designer denims that hug her in all the right round places.
We are jubilant, literally dancing in the aisles. And I think being a good aunt can be as easy as an old-fashioned dickie, and as foolproof as the color black.
An aunt, I realize, must simply tell the truth about how a butt looks in a pair of dark blue jeans . . . and then, if a winner is found, hallelujah, she must open her wallet and buy them.