My aunt was 18 when I was born, and has never been married. Our biggest inside joke to this day is big A and little a. When I was a kid, my aunt had a red convertible and tape deck and was basically the coolest person I knew. Some of my oldest memories are of us driving around in her car singing along to the radio, and irritating the entire family by referring to ourselves as big A and little a -- big Attitude and little attitude.
When I was 9 years old, my aunt brought shame upon the entire family (recovering Southern Baptists... you know how they can be) by getting pregnant by an abusive asshat she was seeing at the time. She endured the freeze-out from my grandmother, until news came in that the baby could be in danger, and the stiff old bird burst into tears at the mere thought of not having that grandbaby around. She went on to raise what has become a strapping 15 year old little man on her own. That kid is like a brother to me -- our family is that close -- and I'm grateful to her everyday for bringing him into this world and for raising him up into a man who loves and respects women.
When I was 17 (and I'll get into the details of this a bit more later, when I talk about my mother), I left my mother's home. My aunt was the person I called to come and pick me up. She had always been the one I related most closely to, was closest to in age, and the only one I could think of who would support me, no matter what her own opinions might be, in this decision. That cost her a lot in her relationship with my mother, and there are wounds there between them, caused by my hands, that still have not entirely healed. But she knows what it's like to be on the outside of the family -- to be the one causing problems and generally stirring up disorder. She railed the hardest against what was expected out of her (for better or for worse) and did the most damage to her own reputation as a "lady" in order to pursue her own version of happiness. She's never been afraid of what anyone else thinks or says. No matter what anyone else thinks about that, I have always, and still do, respect it. And I look up to it.
Now my aunt is set apart from the other women (people) in my family in relation to me by one defining factor: she is the only person in our entire family who is not afraid to get in my face and tell me when I'm being a bitch.
To give this characteristic some background, I'll tell one of my grandfather's favorite stories, about the one and only time he ever spanked me. I was three years old, and I don't remember what it was I had done, but it's safe to say it was a wholly deserved spanking brought on by characteristic stubbornness on my part, which the adults in my environment spent the majority of my young life trying their best to break and reign in. As the story goes, I refused to speak to my grandfather for from days, to up to weeks, depending on the version you get. It broke his heart, and from that day forward, my grandfather never put his hands on me ever again.
My aunt laughed her way through a fair amount of my defiance of the other adults in my life, but she has never been one to put up with it herself. That remains true to this day. In general, I tend to stay on the outskirts of the family drama, lingering somewhere between the women and the men. That's mostly probably because I've been the least invested in the situation, spending most of my adult life far away from the daily grind the family has been through together. But when it comes down to it, when I do manage to get my panties in a twist about something, she's the one who steps up to the plate and brings me right back down to earth. She's not afraid to contradict me, or to even use my middle name in a tone of voice I haven't heard out of anyone besides her since I was a very small child.
These days she's a full-on PTA mom. I'm not even kidding -- I'm talking PTA president. When I do the laundry while I'm home, I'm hanging up loads of "BASEBALL MOM" and "GO PANTHERS" t shirts. She gives her all to that little man, and is almost nearly shamefully republican in her views on family values. One of my favorite things to do when I'm home is still to climb into her car, turn on the radio and go for drives late at night. I can still rely on her to take whatever I have to say with an open mind, but to then turn around and give it to me straight. She's the mouthiest of all the women in our family, and I'm still just a little a (no matter how hard it is to believe) next to her big one.