In 1976, my older brother graduated from high school. A large party seemed to drop from the sky, in my 11-year-old eyes. In reality, it was a lot of work. If I stretch my memories, I recall some unwanted nagging, knowing my mom was stressed about cleaning the house and making sure it stayed clean.
But on party day, it seemed effortless. A lot was because of these three ladies. Sisters. Grandma and the aunts. When there was a holiday, they sprung. When there was a wedding, they baked. When one of their children had a party at their house, they became a united, untiring force.
I was never privvy to the coordination but I knew there was a conversation something like this: What does Sue Belle (my mom, Lorraine) need for “Jackie’s” (my brother named John aka Jack) graduation party?
And then it began. These ladies were devoted to “a la famiglia” in the micro and macro. We were noisy and rambunctious, and seemed to be the light in their worlds. We all had very special bonds with our own grandmas. I knew how my grandma hummed when she cleaned or cooked. I knew what kind of candy was in her purse. I knew the smell of her house for Sunday lunch. I learned to love provolone cheese from her. We also had bonds with the aunts.
In the limited way that a kid understands people, we knew that that these ladies worked hard because they were always busy. Also, when they were done working, there was a bit of fanfare as we were asked to “rub Auntie’s feet” or “get me a glass of water” or ” grab my purse for me.” They slowed down to play cards or talk, and you usually got to hear an interesting story or a some laughs. Or bickering, which they could manage standing up too.
Each of these ladies had their own personalities and strengths. They would probably be a good case study on the birth order effect. They had their marriages and children and grandchildren. They had mutual friends, but each had their own spheres of influence.
But when I see this picture, I think of them as one. They shared so much of life together. They shared their families with each other and each other with their families. They were “grandma and the aunts” and they worked well together, probably better together.
The youngest sister just died at age 100. My grandma, the oldest, has been dead since 1981. The middle sister died some time in between. We joke that they are bickering with each other again, but I imagine they feel that oneness again, with everyone and everything.