Everyone should have a fun aunt. The kind of aunt who lets you eat ice cream for breakfast because, hey, hasn’t everyone wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast at some point? The kind of aunt who lives on the beach and zips around town in a cool car and knows exactly what to say to soothe your adolescent angst. The kind of aunt who knew it was cool to work out before Jane Fonda made it fashionable. The kind of aunt who never forgets your birthday and teaches you that fitting in is highly overrated.
Everyone should have a cool aunt. The kind of aunt who has Sippie Wallace and Katy Perry on their playlist. The kind of aunt who lets you sneak a swear word into the conversation from time to time. The kind of aunt who says, “I’ve been where you are” but waits to be asked for advice. The aunt that picks you up at the bus stop and scares off the eighth grade bully just by pulling down her sunglasses and saying, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Everyone should have a crazy aunt. Your crazy aunt may show up to your school play wearing a tutu and aviator goggles, but she’ll always show up. Your crazy aunt should tell you elaborate bed time stories that are entirely up but which she insists are true. Your crazy aunt will tell you it’s okay to ditch class to go the movies once in a while and she also believes in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus because she’s met them. Your crazy aunt always has bubblegum in her purse and sometimes turns a corner a wee bit fast just in case she’s being followed.
I’ve been lucky enough to have all three of these aunts. They have all since passed away, but I try to pick up the mantle when I can for my own extended family. Whether you are the fun aunt, the cool aunt, or the crazy aunt, remember that your influence will be felt and remembered decades after you are gone. And I still totally believe in Santa Claus.
Back in the days when we had record albums and turntables, when you had to keep the music at a low enough volume so your sister didn’t bang on the wall from the room next door, I would sometimes bring records to school and swap them out for a day or two with friends. For a few days with Heart’s double live album, I might give up Goodbye Yellow Brick Road temporarily. But I never could part with Janis Joplin’s Pearl for fear it might get scratched, or worse, broken.
Music marks eras in our life, whether it be a teeny bopper idol phase (HELLO Shaun Cassidy) or the moment we conceive of something powerful coming from art (like the first time I heard U2). Janis Joplin’s music was one raw nerve that was so brutally honest, sometimes it hurt to listen to it. I gobbled up every biography I could find, bought all of her albums, then the “remastered” and “lost” editions, and when my album collection had been carelessly lost, I replaced them all with CDs and downloads. And I marveled at how one person could put her bare soul on display. Because I discovered Janis, I discovered Odetta and Otis Redding (it is rumored she modeled her stage act after him). I tried to recruit my friends into the fandom of Janis, but unlike many 1960’s legends like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, somehow Janis never generated a cult of personality at the same level. This is a shame. Not only did Janis break through the “just a girl singer” mode of the fifties and early sixties (another exception being Aretha Franklin, who is a whole different fangirl blog topic), but because she revered African American artists who are often overlooked for their influence on early rock and roll (Leadbelly, Big Mama Thornton). Today’s female artists followed trailblazers like Joan Jett and the Wilson sisters; before them, artists like Deborah Harry and Patti Smith (moment of silence for the my lost Horses album). But Janis was first.
PBS recently aired a documentary about her life, which of course, I watched. I found the special oddly tame for a woman who was a Texas-sized force of nature, and for the most part, a re hash of old clips that glossed over some important parts of her life and death. All in all, it didn’t quite do justice to a woman who was my first real music idol (not counting Shaun Cassidy, of course).
Somewhere in a dusty bin in a secondhand store, I hope my copy of Pearl is waiting to be plucked from obscurity by an unsuspecting fourteen-year old. I hope he or she will take it home and listen to it beginning to end, then re position the needle to play whichever tune really grabbed him. I recommend Cry Baby.
You might not guess from a casual conversation with me, but I’m a country girl, through and through. Maybe that’s why most of my vacation picks involve crowded cities, skyscrapers and lots of neon lights- they are nice places to visit when you aren’t surrounded by those sights every day. But it’s always good to come home where you have to drive to the mailbox.
The road I grew up on is the road I live on now, but it’s long since seen paved (sigh). My daughter won’t learn the exquisite art of straddling the ruts on a muddy road in the same way I did when I got my driver’s license. Our beloved mutts are free to roam as long as they don’t go past the electric fence, unlike my childhood pets, one of whom would dig a fresh hole every day in the middle of the road and the stray car that might pass by just had to drive around him. And they did. These days, the thirty mile an hour speed limit leaves me shaking my fist at orange trucks and weekend motorcycle enthusiasts who streak by.
We played outside a lot in those days, rain or shine. When the power went out during storms or hurricanes (which we treat to this day with equal apathy) we’d rustle up some candles and play monopoly. In the summer heat, you had to get up early to get your horse riding in before the humidity hit 100%. We had 4-H projects, fresh watermelon in May and when the orange blossoms bloomed, it was like the fragrance counter at Macys exploded.
Most of my classmates regarded me as a novelty- the one who lived so far out of town. She can’t ride her bike over on Saturday. And although I sometimes resented being different, I live not more than a hundred yards from where I grew up for a reason. I don’t get unexpected visitors. I can have a bonfire in my back yard without reprisal from a homeowner’s association. I see and appreciate a patch of earth that has looked the same for the last hundred years and will look the same one hundred years from now. I know where my water and food comes from. Mercifully, we have a generator (a by-product of being out of power six weeks after Hurricane Charley) and a weak, but consistent, internet connection that keep the world as close as we need it to be.
But I do miss that dirt road and I’m happy that I was raised on it. How about you? Are you proud of where you came from and how it shaped you? I’d love to hear your story.