Aunts have a special place in families.
At their worst, they can act with the authority of a mother without the emotional connection, with endless boasting about cousins’ accomplishments and prioritizing of their needs over the niece or nephew.
At their best, they can be part sister, part mother, part counselor, part co-conspirator, part confidante and all friend.
Ginna Freed, Dunreith aunt, is a clear example of the latter.
Tomorrow, she reaches a milestone birthday, and, while I’m not going to share her age, I am definitely going to share my appreciation for her and all that she has done for Dunreith and our family.
One of Dunreith’s father Marty’s two living siblings, Ginna grew up in the home of Virginia and William Kelly, later known as “Grammy and Poppy”, dipped and coated in that special kind of love that lets you know that you are seen and claimed.
She’s passed that same kind of fiercely nurturing love onto Dunreith and her siblings, later Aidan and his cousins, and, when I joined the family in 2000, to me.
She’s been nothing but gracious since the moment we met at a brunch at Helen and Marty’s house, encouraging me as a husband, father and writer, always sending thoughtful notes and gracious gifts, and transmitting in each of our interactions undiluted respect and acceptance.
As Helen has tired in the past year or so, Ginna has taken up the mantle of bringing the family together. She hosted a gathering at her home last year after Marty had died, replete with the baked beans, hot dogs and sweets he cherished most. Aidan’s eyes glowed as Uncle Dick, Marty’s other remaining sibling, told him childhood stories about his Par while we sat in the comfortable and spacious couch in Ginna’s living room. Two Thursdays ago, she had us all over again, serving the same kind of tasty food and welcome cheer that is a Kelly trademark.
All of this is to say nothing of her distinguished career at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where she has taught English to more than a generation of young women, served on too many committees to name and been a hale and hearty colleague to many of her more liberal colleagues (A staunch Republican, she to my knowledge never lets politics get in the way of collegial relations.).
This is due in large part to what to me is one of Ginna’s most attractive qualities-her ability to laugh at her own foibles as well as those of others.
She is an admitted neat freak.
To give one representative and memorable example, one Christmas, her daughter Meghan’s new dog Boddington had made a deposit on her living room rug.
Ginna not only marshaled a cornucopia of cleaning products within second, she terminated them ‘with extreme prejudice’, to borrow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
After carrying out the task and restoring the rug to mint, if not original, condition, Ginna was about to chuckle both at what she had just done and the speed at which she had done it.
At our most recent family gather, she laughed at the irony of her having employed a woman for 20 years to clean a home that in my experience has never had so much as an errant speck of dust.
During the past two months, when Dunreith has been home tending to Helen in the hospital and during and after her radiation treatments, Ginna has been a regular walking companion, coach and witness to my wife at time when she has needed all three.
Shortly before we went to see Dunreith, Ginna sent Aidan and me the following typically generous note:
The note contains all of the qualities I have mentioned and more.
I hope you join me in wishing Ginna Freed, our treasured aunt, a happy and healthy milestone birthday.