Today is National Aunt and Uncle Day. Yup — that’s a real holiday set aside in the United States to honor aunts and uncles. As my forthcoming novel is all about family and inspired by my own family, I would be remiss in not taking a moment to celebrate my own aunts and uncles, many of whom were the inspiration for some of my characters!
Like my fictional main character in my novel, The Edge of Nowhere, my grandmother was widowed at a young age with a combined twelve children to raise alone during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. (She would eventually remarry and add more children for a total of fourteen). Times were tough and there is no doubt that there were periods of time when they were homeless and hungry, and yet many of these children survived right along with her to become amazing men and women. Today I honor those wonderful aunts and uncles who each played some important role in my life.
Of the original five children from my grandfather’s first marriage, two aunts and one uncle stand out most prominently in my memory: My Aunt Opal, Aunt Cecil and Uncle Pete. Aunt Opal and Aunt Cecil. Like many Oklahomans in the 1930s, Aunt Opal and Aunt Cecil went west to California to escape the worst of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Their descendants remain there today and are still affectionately referred to as the “California Bunch.” Even with the incredible distance that separated us, I remember them well from my childhood. They always made a point to visit and attend large family gatherings in Oklahoma. The characters of Caroline and Olivia represent my Aunts Cecil and Opal.
Uncle Pete was a farmer and, to my knowledge, never left Oklahoma. I remember lazy summer evenings visiting him on his farm out in Calumet, OK, where he always had fresh cantaloup from one of his gardens. He always wore bib overalls and a long-sleeved shirt, even on the hottest of Oklahoma summer days. It’s what farmers did. The combined characters of Daniel and Joseph represent my Uncle Pete.
Next comes my Aunt Gerry. She was the oldest of my grandmother’s children with my grandfather. Oh how I loved my Aunt Gerry! She was a hard-worker and so very giving. She never forgot a birthday or Christmas, and she was always the first person my parents called when they needed to leave me for long periods of time. The thing I remember most about my Aunt Gerry was her extreme dislike for patchwork quilts. She once told me that she’d seen enough in her childhood and she absolutely refused to have one in her house. In the Edge of Nowhere, my main character hates patchwork quilts, and her feelings are drawn directly from my Aunt Gerry. The book’s character, Grace, is based upon how I imagine my Aunt Gerry might’ve been as a child.
My Uncle Bill comes next. I loved my Uncle Bill! He passed away about two years ago, but there was never a kinder or gentler man. For Uncle Bill, everything was about this family. He married the love of his life and together they raised several children, then went on to raise several of their grandsons as their own. He was rough around the edges, very often politically incorrect, but his heart was pure. My cousins and I always joked that, when bringing home a future husband or wife, if they survived meeting Uncle Bill they were keepers. Everybody should have an Uncle Bill. My character, Jack, is based upon how I imagine my Uncle Bill might’ve been in his youth.
Next comes my dad. Now, I realize that this is an article about honoring aunts and uncles; but, since it’s also about the characters in my book, I’d be remiss in not mentioning him. In my novel, my father is represented by the child, Ethan.
Next up is my Aunt Shirley — the first of my father’s remaining siblings. There is nobody like my Aunt Shirley! She’s a pistol! She’s kind and gracious, and would give you the shirt off of her back; but cross her or someone she loves and that Hedrick temperament comes shining through. She’s an amazing woman and, as I was writing the dialogue in my book, it was the melodic sound of my Aunt Shirley’s voice I heard in my head. The child, Sara, represents my Aunt Shirley in the book.
My Uncle Donny passed away several years ago from cancer, I think. I adored my Uncle Donny. I don’t think it’s any secret to my family that he was always my favorite of my daddy’s brothers. The weird thing is that I can’t tell you why. Of all of my dad’s siblings, he was the most different. Where the rest of the family is loud and boisterous, Uncle Donny was quiet and kept to himself. He’d come to a family gathering and leave without saying a word. I loved everything about him. His smile…his quiet demeanor. He was very special to me and my heart still aches when I think of his passing. Like the main character in my book, my grandmother was hugely pregnant with my Uncle Donny when my grandfather died. In my novel, the baby Victoria is carrying at her husband’s death represents my Uncle Donny.
Next in line is my Uncle Everett. I didn’t know him well, as he lived in California and died in my early teens. What I recall of him was a very attractive man who was kind and gentle. I believe he was especially close with my youngest two aunts, and he was in many ways my gramma’s “baby.” Uncle Everett spoiled my grandmother rotten. If my gramma needed it, Uncle Everett was the first to provide it. Living in California, he knew several professional football players, and one of my gramma’s favorite stories was meeting Joe Montana when he played for the San Francisco 49ers. I believe she said she had dinner with him one night. How cool is that?! If my gramma wanted or needed it, My Uncle Everett did his best to make it happen.
After my Uncle Everett comes my Uncle Jim; the second of my father’s remaining siblings and another of my favorite uncles. Uncle Jim was always the “cool” uncle. He married young and had several children with my Aunt Deanna, then lived what I imagined in my childhood as the life of a playboy for many years following their divorce. I remember his many beautiful girlfriends and one of his wives of many years, Debbie, who was tall and lanky. She was a professional singer. They divorced and he went through a few other women before setting down with the wonderful wife he has now. Interestingly, through all the years and nearly 50 years after their divorce, he and his first wife, my Aunt Deanna, are still very dear friends. They’re the couple that everyone hopes to emulate: they divorced, but they had several children together and so they remained close friends. They still send birthday cards to each other every year, and my Aunt Deanna still comes to family reunions for the family she’s been divorced from for nearly all of my life. And yet we love her as much as Uncle Jim and his wife, Sheila, and we still call her “Aunt Deanna.” Uncle Jim is represented by the child, David, in my book.
The last two children are my daddy’s “baby sisters,” Aunt Coni and Aunt Mary. I mention them together because they’re always together in my mind. It’s hard to think about one without the other. At significantly younger than my dad and their other siblings, Aunt Mary and Aunt Coni are the two I relate to most. Both have children my age and there’s just nothing about either of them that I don’t completely love. Like the older siblings, they’ve reinforced in me a huge love of family. More than that, they’ve taught me confidence. These two amazing women are the best kinds of aunts to have because they always have your back. They may not agree with you, but they respect your path in life and celebrate your every success. They may also be special to me because they’re especially close to my own mother, always treating her like an extra sister rather than the wife of their older brother. If there were ever two women I’d most like to emulate, it’s my Aunt Coni and Aunt Mary. They are who they are and you either love them, or you can take a hike. They won’t spend any time worrying about what you don’t like about them. If you don’t like them, it’s your problem and has nothing to do with them. What better legacy can a woman leave for her daughters, granddaughters and nieces but the legacy of being proud of who you are?
I’m very thankful to my aunts and uncles for so many reasons. Though they’re separated in age from oldest to youngest by probably more than 20 years, they’ve taught us all the importance of family by always maintaining close ties with each other. In my childhood, they fostered close relationships between cousins by frequent visits to each others homes and annual family gatherings. Some of my best memories are gathering at Aunt Shirley’s house in her pool room, and taking turns with the cousins at the pool table while her husband’s, Uncle Don’s, Bob Wills music blared through the stereo system. As cousins, we learned to love each other by seeing the love our parents had for each other. For the reasons, today I honor my aunts and uncles and thank them for being a huge part of the person I have become.
The Edge of Nowhere is loosely based upon the life of my aunts and uncles as they struggled alongside their widowed mother during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. To learn more about this novel, releasing in January 2016, follow THIS LINK.
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