Friday, December 26, 2008

Aunt Olive the Great

I didn’t know her well. We met once, six years ago at my husband’s family reunion, but there were so many people there I didn’t get the chance to talk too much with her.

She is Aunt Olive. She is the Mister’s great aunt, his grandmother’s sister. I wrote about this generation here. These women went through some serious crap—the likes of which most of us can’t begin to imagine. They are tough and caring and have a fabulous sense of humor.

This was our family’s first Christmas in England. We were so happy to have not only the Mister’s parents come from America, but also his extended family drive up from London. It was the first time in six years that we would have had extended family with us for a holiday (since moving across the pond from the States).

As we sat and visited, I quickly noticed that Olive keeps a poker face. She allows very little emotion to escape via facial expression, but she is incredibly observant of her surroundings.

Christmas Eve arrived and I found myself wrapping presents at 11pm. I hate that. I had no Christmas spirit—just contemplating the logistics of cooking Christmas dinner the next day for the 13 people.


As Christmas morning dawned I was happy to see my four little girls flitting around the tree. I enjoyed watching family members open gifts that I had bought and wrapped. But I had yet to truly feel that deep Christmas spirit.

I wish I could say that as I watched my little girls open their presents and shriek with joy, I felt that warm feeling, but honestly I didn’t. I was preoccupied with how I was going to coordinate breakfast, lunch and dinner for the crowd. Then chidded myself for not enjoying the moment.

I couldn’t see the ‘gifts’ that were there in front of me.

After all of the presents were opened and the gang was in the dining room eating bagels, eggs and smoked salmon, I sat alone for a minute in the living room reading a cookbook that my daughters gave me. I was surprised when someone grabbed my shoulder very abruptly. Before I could look around and see who it was, Aunt Olive’s face appeared next to mine. She kissed my cheek. She had tears in her eyes and she said, ‘Thank you. All I can say is— thank you.’

Olive is 86. Olive lived through WWII—sleeping in a bomb shelter every night for six years. SIX YEARS. She saw more shit go down before her thirtieth birthday than I have even thought about in my forty years. But she is so sharp, so gracious, so appreciative of life.
What a fantastic example Olive is for our family.

What a gift.

After dinner, as the men-folk were doing the washing up, my big girls, Aunt Olive and I were watching ‘Mama Mia’. As soon as the first song came on, Aunt Olive began unabashedly belting out the words—loudly and perfectly. She knew every one of those Abba songs. She was as good as Meryl Streep...

Later we all sat around the dining room table and played a card game called ‘Chase the Ace’. To win the game you have to be very good at concealing what you think of your card. You must have a poker face.
Aunt Olive wiped the table with us all. Smiling broadly as she collected all of the pennies in the kitty.

She told me later about how she enjoyed throwing darts with the other old ladies in her retirement home every week.

Aunt Olive is my hero.

As the family loaded into the car this morning to head back to London, we all hugged goodbye. I told Aunt Olive that it was wonderful spending time with her, and she said, ‘Thank you for making me feel so welcome’. Welcome, I thought? I was honoured to have had her in my home for a few days.

Being with Great Aunt Olive was the best Christmas gift I’ve had in years.

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