Anna Curtin, my Aunt Ann (and my dad’s only sister), was my pinnacle of female independence and strength at an early age. As a kid we would visit my fun, loud, and sparkly Aunt Ann who had numerous boyfriends and husbands that fell by the wayside, and when in her mid-30’s, she adopted a baby on her own. This was sometime around 1980, where divorce was rare and certainly adopting a child (as a single mother) was not the norm. But it was the best decision she ever made.
Since my parents divorced at 12, my holidays changed at an early age and new traditions were made. For close to 30 years, every Thanksgiving and Christmas (even when I lived in DC in my twenties), we would drive to northern Connecticut to my Aunt Ann’s for holiday cheer and her big turkey dinner. This was time where the Curtin clan (though small) would catch up, laugh, and devour my Aunt’s delicious feast she would prepare for us – usually just me, my dad, my cousin Frankie, and a few other neighbors and friends.
My aunt spent most of her life working hard to support her one love – her son Frank. She loved to travel and sing. She loved the theater, and boy, was she hilarious. She would tell you anything that came to her mind without holding back. After over 20 years working for the State of Connecticut in administrative roles and recruiting minorities for medical and dental schools at UConn, she was happily retired and enjoying her newfound freedom and time with her grandchildren. When she got sick in her later years, I regretted that she wouldn’t be dancing with me at my wedding in Malibu like I imagined. In recovery, she wouldn’t be able to fly out and make such a long trip when learning to walk again.
My aunt was always my biggest cheerleader – coming to my college graduation, sending me cards and gifts for every birthday, and calling to check up on me to tell me “Love ya!” She always told me she couldn’t believe I drove across country solo for a job in California. “WOW, How brave you were,” she would often say, even ten years after the move. My Aunt Ann was a tough, strong woman who lived life exactly as she wanted – although she often remarked how she wish she lived in California.
As the holidays roll along this year, I find myself nostalgic – thinking of my Aunt Ann – the support she gave me all those years, her voice and boisterous laugh, her no apologies attitude, and the turkey meal of LOVE she happily created for us each year.
What My Aunt Ann taught me about Living:
1. Make no apologies for the life you have chosen to lead. Do what makes you happy.
Follow your own path. Life is what you make of it.
If you want to create a family, do it.
If you want to dye your hair that color, do it.
If you want to buy a home, save your money.
If you want to go to Alaska, book that cruise.
If you want great health insurance, work for the state of Connecticut.
2. “It is what it is.”
This was a common sentiment from my Aunt Ann. You can’t change the inevitable. You can’t control other people’s actions or behaviors. Why waste time worrying about things that can’t be controlled? Do the best you can and don’t wallow in other people’s poor choices, lack of compassion, or bad behevior. Take care of yourself and realize, “It is what it is!”
3. “Move on!”
Keep moving. Move along. Life moves forward, not backward. No use holding grudges, life is short. My Aunt never complained when life’s hardships got in the way, and she would often scream to those harping on the past, “MOVE ON” or “Get over it!” In what was our final time together we talked about how being angry or mad at someone by not speaking to them ever again was probably not the answer for their disappointing behavior. You can’t harbor resentment for things you can’t control. For your own sanity, you have to “Move on!!!!”
4. Kindness counts.
Looking back at final texts and emails, my Aunt had told me many years ago how she wished she could meet a kind man like her son Frank – who sat with her at her friend’s funeral, held her hand, and rubbed her back. In life, it really is those little acts of kindness that mean so much. She found kindness in her own son. In one of our final texts she wrote, “Life can be a real bitch sometimes. I am so happy you met a kind man” acknowledging that when life gets tough, kindness counts.
As a kid, my Aunt left such an impression on me when I was a child because when I saw something in her house that I liked, she would always say, “Take it!” as if it would mean more to her for me to own it and enjoy it. She knew early on the importance of giving. Sprinkle that kindness wherever you go.
5. Be wild and crazy; loud is OK. Just be you and do it with bravado.
Laugh as loud as you want, in public or at home. Make no apologies for being YOU.
Wear all those rings. Smother on that lipstick. Put on a nice dress. Take pride in your appearance.
Get your hair dyed, even when you are sick, if it makes you feel good.
Do what makes you feel beautiful.
My aunt taught me all of these things, even her no-apologetic BIG lipstick kiss.