The Auntening

Earlier this year, two of my Aunts came to stay with me in what I affectionately termedThe Auntening.’ After a few years of my grandmother living in a retirement home, we sold her house in Richmond Hill and the family congregated to oversee unearthing and divying up all the treasures the house holds.

I’ve been living at 55 (as it is known) since last May, when I got a “can you start Monday?” phone call on a Thursday from a different city and was lucky enough to have the little white house waiting for me. I packed up my pet cactus, my modem, and an approximation of a business casual wardrobe and moved down the 401 to start a new job with and comfort of a neighbourhood I knew and loved ready to welcome me. I planted red geraniums, threw out most of what I found in the kitchen cupboards, and spent the summer being whisked in and out of the city on a scenic-if-unforgiving commute.

So I created new memories of my own in the space of a house I already had a childhood worth of visits and pumpkin-carving contests in – but it wasn’t until The Auntening that I appreciated the depth of remembrance the house holds.

My dad and all his siblings grew up here (just ask them to point out the differences in Richmond Hill over the years & you’ll be treated to a constant refrain of “this all used to be farmland”), and I felt humbled to be there with them as we pawed through cupboard after cupboard of photographs and letters. We learned that my grandparents were a couple long before they were married, and that every time we thought we were done with sorting pictures there was sure to be another box of them squirreled away.

The treasures and physical memories you accumulate in a lifetime were staggering and touching – from death certificates found in envelopes to china plates won in a butter competition to decades’ worth of epistolary sisterly love across oceans. If I thought I’d laid a tiny claim in 8 months, I was but a spectator to my grandmother’s dedication to building a home, a family, and a life at 55. My grandmother will still have most of what makes 55 beautiful – the art, the photo albums, the good china – but there’s a kind of grief that comes with letting go of the four walls those paintings and spice racks have graced for decades.

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Sorting teacups

The last night of The Auntening, my dad and his brother came down and we all enjoyed a raucous dinner of spaghetti, wine, and goading my grandmother into singing songs from ‘Mary Poppins’. In addition to being a ton of fun, it was a reminder that, quite simply, I love my family. I’m aware that many people don’t get to grow up in a little house full of love, good food, and shenanigans, and I’ve been uniquely blessed with support and camaraderie from all branches and buds of my family tree.

55 has served not just as a family home for 60 years but as an inn where there is always room, a refuge for stray Hutchinsons passing through (and grandchildren receiving last-minute job offers). 55 won’t last – old houses up and down the street are being sold and torn down to make way for split lots and larger houses – but I hope that whoever lives here in the years to come enjoys a life as full of garlic bread, laughter, and stories worth sharing as we had that last evening.

(I also hope they don’t cut down the mammoth spruce in the front yard or the wild cherry tree in the backyard, but that’s a fool’s hope so I’m trying to follow my grandmother’s incredibly brave and graceful example and let it go.)

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‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’

Here are some lovely things The Auntening wrote about the week they spent at 55 on Facebook that I wanted to share:

The Laurie

Just back from 6 days spent here and sad to say it will be the last 6 days I get to spend here. The family home has been sold and alas will be torn down and 2 built on the lot. So many memories of lives lived here. My parents were here for 60 years and the house has always been a refuge for us.
It was a very sad moment watching our 92 year old mother take in the fact the house will be gone come May. We all acknowledged the sadness she’s entitled to and then in her resilient way she rallied. She spent the time every day reading old letters looking at photos and remembering the days spent.
We finished off with a noisy family dinner including laughter spaghetti wine and song
Even though the building will be gone I hope our laughter and noise remain on the lot and help to make it a home and refuge for generations to come.
Thanks to my family for making this week special and of course to mom who always opened the doors. Hard to believe I won’t be back home. Goodbye 55

The Janet

I spent the last 8 days in Richmond Hill, sorting through mountains of photos, many, many letters, WW II paraphernalia and lots of cupboards. Although the ultimate result is sadness (the house is sold and will be torn down this spring), I learned some cool things along the way.

  1. My mother and her siblings were very close. As in daily letter writing close (an art that is almost lost now). Many, many letters, mostly full of daily happenings, nothing of huge consequence and yet, it left me with such a strong sense of family. Luckily, it perseveres through to this day.
  2. Our parents were a couple before they were parents. A passionate, loving couple. Enough said. (Although when I once told my mother that an high school teacher had asked if we were Catholic, given the number of Hutchinsons at RHHS, Mom told me to tell her they were over-sexed Protestants. Which “Eww” at the time – but I get it now.)
  3. I am going to try very hard to resist the urge to keep something because it might be useful. 16 bags of garbage later tells me it wasn’t.
  4. My love of books is legitimate. Both parents are equally responsible.
  5. Create memories with your stuff. Barbara took one look at the Christmas tablecloth and spoke about the memories of Christmas’ spent at 55.
  6. Lest you think that I did this alone – I did it in conjunction with Laurie, Neil, Barbara, Don, Clare and Mack. Lucky and blessed to have all of you to help with the memories. And Laurie? You can play Thelma to my Louise any time.

55’s backyard in high August


3 thoughts on “The Auntening

  1. Victor Lewis says:

    Lovely read.
    I boarded with your grandparents for a while in the late 80’s, got up to some mischief with your uncle Phred, and your Aunt Laurie was kind enough to loan me her trombone for my final year of high school.
    You have a great family – Vic

  2. Duane says:

    Love, love, loved this! Your missive makes me think not just of the changing of generations, but of norms. The desire for BIGGER homes in a time when we should be moving closer to one another and shrinking our carbon footprints. So different from the values of our parents’ time. Grew up a young brat with much older parents and grandparents, so I’ve tread this path of sorting, sifting and unearthing before, though absent the familial cohesion you enjoy. Do revel and enjoy it to the hilt for it’s truly a blessing of the highest order. While many of the tangible items such as teacups may bear little monetary value, they conjure moments and places in time that can be priceless to those who can still illusrate those stories. Get those stories, and the meanings underneath them, while you can as it’s part of your biopsychosocial DNA. Finally, good on your mom and aunts for taking this transition in stride the way they’re doing it. I would give them each a big hug and thank them for their loving wisdom. And thank you for sharing this (and them) with us.

  3. Catherine Wearne says:

    A moving story of my dear Auntie Jessie’s home and the memories it holds for many many people, particularly us family. I have wonderful memories of 55 though I was only ever there fleetingly. Shenanigans is a perfect description of the Hutch clan and particularly Jessie – always talking up the beauty of Canada that we have missed out on in Australia. I have often wondered how my life would have been if my mother (Jessie’s sister) had settled in Canada with my Australian dad. I’m not looking forward to the process of ‘sorting’ that is inevitable when both Mum and Dad are 97 and still in their home of 58 years but I will think of you all there singing Mary Poppins songs. For us it will be My Fair Lady songs and Gordon Lightfoot’s second album. In the meantime the garden is looking as beautiful as it could be with more hands than ever contributing to it’s preservation and ongoing produce. Adrienne has been with us here in Sydney for a week and I think she’s a fabulous example of the ongoing ‘shenanigans’ of this everlasting family. All the very best to the Hutchinsons of Harding Blvde and Beyond.

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