Grandma, as you all know, had only one sister—Aunt Marian, who was four years her senior. While our family interacted with Aunt Marian’s more than Grandma’s other siblings, it was certainly not because those two sisters were similar in their likes, dislikes or opinions. While I believe that in some cases, we can’t change who we are because of our genes, I think our environment and friends may influence us more. So in the nature (genes) versus nurture (environment) debate, my vote is with nurture.
Both sisters loved to dance, and they came from a long line of dancers. Grandma’s Uncle Jim and his daughter, Gertrude, both taught them how to wow the audience at the veteran’s home or at church shows. Their great uncle, Jack Blue, was a famous dance instructor in his day and was even in the Guinness Book of Records as a renowned instructor who never took a lesson himself. Grandma was given the choice of dance or piano lessons and I am assuming Aunt Marian was given the same opportunity. Nature or nurture?
They each had large families by today’s standards, although I am positive that Aunt Marian secretly felt superior to Grandma because she had three more children and six more grandchildren. They both did outstanding jobs as moms.
That’s where the similarity ends. Let’s first discuss their taste in books. This is how Grandma once described their contrasting preferences in books: “She like to read books where the main character walks up the street to have a cup of tea with the ladies, while I enjoy a good mystery where someone gets chopped up and their body is discovered by the side of the road.”
Music was another area of divergent tastes. Aunt Marian loved music of the forties—the kind you would hear in a dentist’s office, a funeral home, or, duh, an elevator. Grandma considered herself far hipper than her sister and preferred someone like Billy Joel or Rod Stuart. Thank goodness they did not go on any long road trips together!
Mom told me she hated to go shopping with Aunt Marian, because her sister delighted in striking up conversations with the cashier or the customer in line behind her, while Grandma preferred to say what she needed to and conclude her business. I admit that I had been like Grandma most of my life, but moving to the South, Aunt Marian’s chattiness has become second nature to me now. I was even scolded by a cashier at Shop Rite in New Jersey for making eye contact and talking to the man in front of me. I have met some very interesting people this way, particularly on airplanes, so I like the new me. I think neither of my sisters is like Grandma in that respect.
Grandma has never been able to accept aging, which is one of the reasons why leaving her house has been, and still is, particularly upsetting and distasteful. I think the denial of aging began when she turned thirty (her father even laughed at how upset she was on that birthday). She has been stuck in that age ever since, and I don’t believe she understands that she is eighty-six now. It is a difficult number for her to admit owning. She always preferred to be called Jean or Aunt Jean by just about everyone, because being called “Mrs.” was all about growing old, and not ever about the fact that she got a very long name when she married Grandpa (She will deny that.) I don’t think Aunt Marian minded the more formal address of “Mrs.”
Despite their differences, the bond was strong and the relationship worked. Aunt Marian has been gone for four years now. Four years! Grandma has told me, many times, that she has often wanted to pick up the phone and share a thought or some news with her. I know she is not alone with those feelings. We all miss her—miss our two families getting together for holidays and wedddings. It’s just not the same.