Wide Awake: The Aunts
Yeah, it’s good to have friends
By Marianne Aleardi

There was Aunt Eileen, Aunt Dottie, Aunt Rita, Aunt Nancy and Aunt Pat. These were some of the most important women in my life growing up. And yet, none of them were related to my mom or dad. 

They were my mother’s sorority sisters, but that doesn’t mean what you think. None of them went to college. They just formed this group, this bonded club of women, so they called themselves a sorority. It started in high school, and it lasted their whole lives – my whole life too.

Those aunts – whose husbands I called uncles, and kids I called cousins (and still do) – shared everything during phone calls that lasted for hours. The families spent holidays together and went on vacations together. They had house parties that lasted well into the early morning, even though all the kids were there too. We just found a place on the couch – or floor – to fall asleep. (Sometimes one of my uncles would join us. There are pictures of Uncle Joe sleeping under a dining room table, while the other adults sit above, laughing and singing and making no effort to quiet down.)

My mother often tells the story of a party at Aunt Eileen’s house that went so late my Uncle Fran went to bed, because he had a Saturday shift at the gas company the next day. But that’s not all. The party went even later, and Uncle Fran eventually came down the stairs and left for work. My mom tells the story with great pride, because it meant these lifelong friends were having the kind of fun that doesn’t come along often. And she was right.

We vacationed in the Poconos every summer, each family staying in their own cabin. We swam, played games, caught lightening bugs and roasted marshmallows. And every night we did the same thing: the adults had a party in one cabin, the boys all went to another cabin, and the girls had a pajama party in another. It was typical old-school fun: pillow fights and charades. I waited for that week all summer long.

In the winter, the families got together a few times a month. It’s funny to think about now: You’d expect we’d get tired of each other, same kids, same houses, no internet, no Netflix. But we didn’t. No one wanted to leave when we heard our parents call.

Today, women often talk about the importance of their friendships with other women. I’m certainly thankful for my female friends. But unlike my mom, I go weeks without talking to them – maybe a text here or there – but that lapse never weakens our friendship. We can go out to lunch or dinner and pick up right where we left off. I also know if I locked my keys in my car at the mall and I can’t reach Joe, I can call one of them and they’ll drop everything to come pick me up and drive me home. (I’ve tested that theory.)

And over the past few years, I’ve become part of a strong network of businesswomen in South Jersey. I call them my friends, even though we don’t really get together socially. But I know I can count on them. I know they’ll show up for me and wish me well. And I do the same for them.

Growing up, I watched my mom and my aunts demonstrate the joy of true friendship. I saw decades go by, and these good friends were still there, talking on the phone and hanging out at each other’s houses (just going home a little earlier). They were up-close witnesses to everything that happened – exciting or mundane – in each other’s lives.

As their kids, we were lucky enough to go on the ride with them. With every phone call, every party, every vacation, we saw firsthand how friends enhance your life. They give you something to look forward to. They let you stay at their dining room table, laughing and singing, even if they have to leave. They’ll be there for you. And in return, you’ll be there for them – happily.

My style of friendship may be different from my mom’s, but I think she would agree that it doesn’t really matter. Close friends are close friends. And when you have them, life is better.

August 2019
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