When I was a little girl, my favorite day of the week was Saturday. Sure, I liked that it wasn’t a school day—that I could play outside and enjoy the sun and the pool and see my friends and hang out in my room. But it was Saturday nights that I looked forward to the most.
My dad wasn’t a fun person to be around; he made us nervous and he hated when any of his five kids made any noise above a whisper. He barked at us if the screen door opened and closed too often, if we giggled too much, or if the phone rang during dinner. With Dad around, we were on our best behavior and on edge—all the time. My mom had it worse, for sure.
But every Saturday, my dad would dress up just a bit—somewhere between his police detective work attire and his summer cut offs, and “go out” – usually to a local tavern on Chicago’s far north side called My Place. He’d leave around 11 a.m. As we watched his car pull away, we’d cautiously relax, our shoulders going softer, the laughs and questions and reveries coming more easily. We could come and go as we pleased, giggle with mom and our friends and do our homework without being too scared to ask for help.
What I remember the most, though, was Trivial Pursuit. My brothers and I weren’t the players, but we were observers. My mom had two sisters; an older sister who lived two doors away with my uncle and cousins, and younger sister, Nan, who lived in the next suburb over in a townhouse with her friend, Carol. Aunt-Nan-and-Carol was how we knew them. They all came over Saturday nights after dinner, while Dad was still out.
All four women smoked like chimneys, drank endless cups of coffee and would howl with laughter every Saturday night at our dining room table. The game was secondary to the fun – they just loved being together. My brothers and I loved just being nearby, being a part of the laughter, sharing the desserts, and hearing the questions and answers that seemed to always be about secrets the four women shared—news and music and TV shows we hadn’t heard of—things just beyond our reach. Aunt-Nan-and-Carol were a fixture at all our major holidays and events, and at every birthday (Mom’s was in June). Visits to their apartment were a treat; they had cool Sharper Image type gadgets to play with, a great stereo and record collection, and an upright piano I repeatedly tortured them with, having no clue how to actually play.
Aunt-Nan-and-Carol would try to bedazzle the darker corners of my mom’s life—they’d take her to museums and the theatre in the city (the buzz my mom got from A Chorus Line lingered for a year, minimum), take us kids to monster truck shows and carnivals to give Mom a breather, and somehow, they learned about the few “fancy” presents we begged Santa for each Christmas.
I never questioned why neither of them had husbands or children of their own. I never saw them as anything other than my aunt Nan and my Carol. They loved us as much as our mom did. Their arrival at our house on Saturdays and at holidays filled us, and our often-antisocial house, with joy. With love.
Years later, Aunt Nan passed away. My brothers and I were older, but still heartbroken. Our mom had died years before, and Nan had been a living embodiment of what Mom meant to us. A reminder, a beacon. In so many ways, Carol was her widow. But some people didn’t understand why she wanted to stay in their home for her own golden years. To continue to care for their dog. Nan and Carol certainly weren’t married. They had separate bedrooms. They didn’t hold hands. But they shared a home and a checking account and travelled the world together. They were life partners. What they did – or didn’t do – behind closed doors was none of our business. And it never mattered.
Every day, but especially in June, I feel proud to have known them, to have been cared for by them, and to have them as a wonderful part of my family.
Happy Pride Month—to all of us, and all of our unique, perfect families.