Dear Aunt Andrea

Note: When I was 2.5 years old, my mother’s oldest sister, Andrea, passed away of ovarian cancer. She had fought it for nearly six years, but as is usual for this type of cancer, she was unable to beat it. Andrea was unable to have any children and as such, adored me as if I was her own. Andrea was a writer, though no one really knows what it is she loved to write. Her journals were destroyed soon after her death. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and this is my letter to her.

Dear Aunt Andrea,

This is probably the first time I’ve ever written you a letter, simply because you’ve been almost like a legend in my life – not really a real person. I’ve heard the stories. You loved me like I was your own. You read me stories even though you were too sick to even lift your head from the couch pillow. You would hold me on your lap and cuddle me for hours. And yet, I write you this letter now because I’m around the same age you were when you died. We’ve come full circle, and I’ve got questions that can’t be answered by anyone who knew you in real life. I just keep wondering what you’d think of me now, as an adult, as opposed to the child you loved so dearly.

First of all, what do you see? Do you see a woman who fights for what’s right? Do you see someone who gets lost in her own egocentrism, someone who might be a little too selfish? And are you pleased with what you see? Am I the person you and my mother hoped I’d become, way back when I was a little kid with eccentric habits and a cute button nose? I’m still kind of eccentric. Some may even find me weird. I know I’m a bit socially awkward. I know that I’m not always polished and put together. But I’d like to think that I’m honest. I’d like to think that even if you don’t recognize the little girl in me now, you’d at least be proud of the woman I’ve become.

And I want to ask, would you have been okay with my bisexuality? Would you have accepted it or found it strange? No one can really tell me how you’d have reacted. And maybe they don’t know themselves – maybe you were unpredictable, like I can be sometimes. Maybe you would have thought it was unnatural or strange. But I’d like to think that you would have accepted me when no one else really would have completely understood. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, or maybe it would have, but it would have been okay anyway, because we would have had a special bond.

You were a writer. I long for that the most – to have been able to show you my book before it was published, or have you read my short stories. I wish I could have read your journals, your thoughts of how life was, how you dealt with the cancer, how you faced death. Because you were so brave, even just at the end, that no one could really tell what you were thinking. I’m sure you were scared, but you were stubborn and strong, and I’d like to think I’m like that, too. That maybe little things that didn’t matter would matter to us. That the big things wouldn’t have been so scary because we were able to rationalize them away.

I have your eyes and your short stature. I don’t look like you otherwise, but I’m told I have a little of your personality. I’d like to think that you’d be proud of that, that I carry on the tradition of strong Pyke women, of women that take no shit and stand up for what’s right and maybe marry wrong, but end up persevering anyway because goddamn, we are not going to take anything lying down. It’s the harshness of the Algoma woods, maybe. Maybe it’s the way we stuck it out across sea journeys and cold winters in the woods and trying to scrape money out of an unforgiving landscape. Maybe it’s the way we did it anyway, that we managed to give birth to daughters and nieces just like us. And it’s that fact that I hope I carry through, from you, my grandmother, my mother, all the women before us, that when I have a daughter, she’ll be as strong as all of us have turned out to be.

I guess what I’m saying is, I wish I remembered you more. I don’t, not really. I remember your curly brown hair (and it used to be that strawberry blonde that was so out of place in our family of mouse-brown or black hair), your huge glasses, and your smile. I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of you, trying to remember the sound of your voice, more of your face. And I’m sorry I was too young, that my memory wasn’t developed enough, because I want to remember you. The person that loved me like her own child. The one that willed me her piano, her ruby and opal ring, and her legacy. That maybe you passed your writing gift onto me. That maybe I’m a writer because somehow, you gave me the tools to tell stories. God knows everyone said you did just that.

I hope that if you knew me today, at the age of almost 31, you’d see a woman you’d be proud of. That I’m doing the things right you hoped I would do. That I’m somewhat successful, though I make mistakes. I try to seize the day. I know we might not have tomorrow. And though I have laziness in spades, I keep in mind that I don’t have forever to reach my dreams. I have to do what I can right now. I’m trying to do that.

I love you. I wish I knew you. Most of all, I wish you were here so I could tell you this in person.


Elizabeth Andrea (the one who bears your name)

Andrea McDougall Martin, my aunt
Andrea McDougall Martin, my aunt

4 thoughts on “Dear Aunt Andrea

  1. Before I even read the entry I saw the picture at the bottom and thought, “Wow, Liz has her eyes.”

    I’m sure your aunt is very pleased with what she sees. And it sounds like you share your name with a wonderful person.

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