A good aunt is a happy and wholesome relationship for a child – she’s distant enough to admire wholeheartedly, but close enough to love. I’m fortunate to have had two aunts. There was my mother’s sister, Auntie Joyce, who lived in rural Nottinghamshire, and on my father’s side, Auntie Muriel, from Carshalton in Surrey. Both were excellent in entirely different ways.
Auntie Muriel, has just died aged 92. She was mother of two splendid boys, grandmother to four girls and a boy, and great-grandmother to three boys and two girls – which seems pretty marvellous to me.
She was an elegant lady, always beautifully dressed, with impeccably neat hair, and startlingly blue eyes.
When I was a child we visited Surrey every August. Carshalton was a place of water and light and feathers – of ancient trees, and squirrels. In those days, grey squirrels were rare in the north, and they delighted us with their agility as they leapt around the tree tops of Carshalton Park.
Auntie Muriel lived in a house with a huge and wonderful garden. There were rows of runner beans, a terrace with a wall to balance along, and a mysterious air-raid shelter under a grassy mound. The annual visits were magical, from the moment we reached London Victoria and the suburban train, to the visits to Beddington Park, and the Ponds with the ducks – a world far removed from Chester.
But what seems most significant was the way Auntie Muriel always defended me. I remember once being doubly humiliated by parents and grandmother, and creeping off to hide in my grandmother’s bedroom.
It was Auntie Muriel who came to find me, ignoring the verdict of badly behaved child I’d been labelled with, and chatting as if nothing had happened.
She was the aunt who drove carefully round bends so we didn’t get car sick, who let us get down from the table rather than endure hours of tedious adult conversation. It was Auntie Muriel who insisted, with quiet authority, that I was just too sensitive, when I’d been accused of lack of feeling.
Remarkably she was still there for me years later when I went through a divorce, sending me the sweetest letter of support when I was at an all time low. Without knowing any detail, she insisted that she took my side. If ever I’d needed a gang to support me, I feel she’d have been first to sign up.
Now I am without aunt. I’m sorry that, as an adult, I didn’t see enough of her, and that I missed visiting her for the last time by a few days.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.