Every kid should have an Aunt Mary.
Someone to confide in and someone who understands you when Mom and Dad just don’t get it. Someone to hang out with on a Friday night, who doesn’t mind if you stay up late, eat junk food and crash on her couch. Every kid deserves to know a trusted adult who doesn’t treat you like a kid.
That was my Aunt Mary Byrne. She died last week after 85 years of living life on her terms, with little care for what others thought.
She was the only one of six girls who didn’t get married and have a brood of her own, and she relished her role as the quintessential fun-loving, single aunt to 31 nieces and nephews who adored her. Even though that was a lot of ways to divide her love and attention, each one of us felt special when she was around.
My dad dubbed her Aunt Zaz (I assume because she was full of pizzazz), and she lived up to the hype.
She talked loudly. She dressed loudly. And she lived loudly. She wore wigs, bright red lipstick and so much Tabu perfume that if she hugged you, the scent would linger in your hair and nostrils for days.
She was glamorous, like someone on TV. She was a former homecoming queen who became a successful professional living on her own in an apartment. She was our very own Mary Tyler Moore and Auntie Mame rolled into one.
Her apartment was the coolest place to hang out because she had a pool, plus a fridge full of TV dinners and soda and a can of whipped cream that you could spray right into your mouth. She instigated poker games that lasted for hours and would pretend to look the other way when we snitched a few sips of her Miller High Life.
Every year at Christmas for more than two decades, she gave each one of us something she knew no one else would give us — a crisp $2 bill, which became one of her trademarks.
For nearly 40 years Aunt Mary worked as a trusted lobbyist for the city of Kansas City to the Missouri General Assembly. People all over the state knew and respected her. But none of us kids knew what a lobbyist was. All we knew is that when the chambers were in session, she would load up her Buick with cans of Topsy’s popcorn and slabs of ribs and head to Jeff City. She often regaled us with stories of backroom deals brokered at late-night parties.
Being a scrapper and a negotiator in her professional life also helped her as she successfully battled both colon and breast cancer. She credited her recovery to her positive outlook and lots of prayer.
Now that I have daughters of my own, I realize how important it is for them — and for us — to have at least one Aunt Mary. Someone to allow our kids to test boundaries and challenge the rules, while allowing us to maintain some facade of parental authority.
Our girls need to know that there are other adults, related and not, who will listen and laugh and love them when they need a break from us. Fortunately we’re surrounded with fabulous role models who would make Aunt Mary proud.
To reach Jim Cosgrove, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.