In December, my great-aunt Et passed away. In memory of her, I’m sharing this post again, which I wrote for her back in 2014, on her 88th birthday. (“Aunt Et”, by the way, sounds mysterious, sometimes French, when you say it aloud. It rolls off the tongue like “Aynette,” my uncle says. It was hard for us kids to say “Aunt Et,” in that proper way, and she hated to be called Esther, her given name, because she said, “It sounds like an old woman.”)


I come from one of those large Southern families where titles like “Aunt” and “Grandmother” are often given like a knighthood. I say “given,” but they are earned. Usually through love.

I was a lucky kid. I had a handful of grandmothers. Two were the mothers of my parents, but there were others—the honorary ones that I got as extras–like my great aunt, who has always been Et—a nickname that had stuck with her since she was a girl.

My Aunt Et spoiled me when I was a kid. I often stayed with her after school, and she let me eat cake batter out of a bowl while watching “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I still remember lying on the floor on a braided rug, licking batter off a spoon while watching Bo and Luke Duke go sailing into the air in slow motion in the General Lee. She never told my mother when I misbehaved (which was likely more often than I recall). She let me take bubble baths in her pink bathroom, and play with the special soaps and perfumes she probably got as gifts from friends. She has been a grandmother to me my whole life, sharing in my joys and hardships. I’ve learned a lot from her, but in honor of her 88th birthday today, I’ll list the ones that were most important.

1. Wash your hands. You’ll live longer. (And we all know where they’ve been.)

2. Cake tastes better when it’s shared.

3. The same goes for happiness and good news.

4. A girl can have as many grandmothers as she wants.

5. It’s easy to be kind. So why not be?

6. Everybody needs a second home, where they can eat cake batter with a big spoon, watch ridiculous t.v. shows, have tantrums over pimento cheese sandwiches, and not be judged.

7. Call your friends as often as you can. You’ll pick up right where you left off.

8. You can never say “I love you” too often.

9. Sometimes smiling at a stranger leads to a lifelong friendship.

10. Sometimes you have to buy a girl a big goofy stuffed parrot. Because years later, it will remind her that she did something well, and that someone noticed.

11. Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first—and often.

12. If you have a kind spirit, you will never be alone.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Et. I am a kinder person because of you.