During the 1950s and 1960s, many children were encouraged to call their parents’ friends Aunt and Uncle. When I was nine, we moved to Coquitlam and the neighbour lady to the East of us told me to call her Aunt, but my Mother insisted I address her as Mrs. and her surname.
As mentioned elsewhere, there was only one set of their friends that my parents had me refer to as Aunt and Uncle. Uncle Fred was fine, but Aunt Ann was hard to say as a preschooler. I probably cheated and called her Auntie Ann back then.
That would have left rather a shortage of people to call Aunt and Uncle, given that my parents each had only one sister each, and no brothers. My maternal grandmother’s three brothers filled the gap very nicely, and we always treated as if they were my Uncles, not the Great Uncles that they really were.
It helped that the age difference was not as great as would normally be the case: my grandmother was seven years younger than any of my other grandparents; she had been born in England, but the brothers were born later, in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
My grandmother’s youngest brother was still single and barely out of his teens by the time I started school. I remember him staying with us for my great-grandmother’s (his mother’s) funeral.
Marrying later in life, my grandmother’s oldest brother’s only child was 10 years older than me, making him young enough to be a Cousin. I was fairly old when he went to the University of Alberta.
I was closer to my grandmother’s middle brother than anyone else I called Uncle, with the possible exception of the man that my mother’s sister had married. Although he did not talk to me that much when I was young, he would play games with me at the same time as he was involved in the adult group discussions that dominated visits from extended family.
He also gave me some memorable gifts. Even though he owned a jewelry store, he had a better feel for what young boys wanted for their birthday or Christmas. Especially the year that he bought me a model car that you build with model airplane glue. As well as paint, the kit came with a nice set of customization equipment.
He was very much a child at heart, but had no children of his own. When I last visited him, in Cranbrook where he had spent his entire life, I noticed something for the first time: he had the same laugh as my grandmother. Although he was in good health, he died the next year, only a few months after my grandmother passed away.
Ironically, he was the relative that I was almost named after. In the end, my parents named me after my father.