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- The Professional Aunt - 1/22 -


By Mary C. E. Wemyss

Chapter I

A boy's profession is not infrequently chosen for him by his parents, which perhaps accounts for the curious fact that the shrewd, business-like member of a family often becomes a painter, while the artistic, unpractical one becomes a member of the Stock Exchange, in course of time, naturally.

My profession was forced upon me, to begin with, by my sisters-in- law, and in the subsequent and natural order of things by their children -- my nephews and nieces.

Zerlina says it is the duty of one woman in every family to be an aunt. By that she means of course a professional aunt. She says she does not understand the longing on the part of unattached females -- the expression is hers, not mine - for a larger sphere of usefulness than that which aunt hood offers. She considers that it affords full scope for the energies of any reasonably constituted woman; and no doubt, if the professional aunt was all that Zerlina says she should be, she would have her time fully occupied in the discharging of her duties.

Zerlina cannot see that it is not exactly a position of a woman's own choosing, although under strong pressure she has been known to admit that there have been cases in which women have been made aunts whether they would or no; and she thinks it is perhaps by way of protest against such usage that they so shamefully neglect their duties in that walk of life to which their bothers and sister-in-law have seen fit to call them.

Of course, when an aunt marries, she loses at once all the perfecting of the properly constituted aunt; and that is a thing to be seriously considered. Is she wise in leaving a profession for which all her sisters-in-law think she is admirably fitted, for one which the most experienced pronounce a lottery?

This is all of course written from Zerlina's point of view. She requires of a professional aunt many things. She must, to begin with, remember the birthdays of all her nephews and nieces, of Zerlina's children in particular. If she remembers their birthdays, it stand to reason, Zerlina's reason, that the sequence of thought is - presents.

The really successful aunt knows the particular taste of each nephew and niece. She knows, moreover, the exact moment at which the taste changes from a love for woolly rabbits to a passion for steam engines. Instinct tells her at what age a child maybe promoted, with safety, from wool to paint, and she knows the critical moment in a boy's life when a Bible should be bestowed. It usually, or perhaps I should say my experience is that it usually, follows the first knife, an ordinary two-bladed knife, and comes the birthday before a knife -- with things in it." The real boy must have a knife with things in it: a corkscrew,-- I wonder why a corkscrew? -- a buttonhook, a thing to take stones out of horses' hoofs, a thing to mend traces with -- I know I am ignorant of the technical terms -- but the hardest-hearted shop- assistant will never fail to help a professional aunt in the choice of a knife, unless by chance he should be unhappy enough never to have been a boy, and such cases are rare.

I used often to wonder why boys wanted all these things. Now I know, bemuse I asked Dick and he said, You see, Aunt Woggles, I use them for other things." I am not sure that most of us don't do the same thing with many of our most cherished possessions in life.

As regards steam-engines Zerlina lays down a distinct law. They must never burst-that is an injury no sister-in-law would ever forgive - and paint must never come off. If Zerlina had known and loved the taste of crimson lake in the days of her youth, she would never draw so hard and fast a line.

From the earliest moment in a baby's career, the professional aunt takes upon herself serious responsibilities. She may not, for instance, like any ordinary aunt, pass the baby in his perambulator, out walking. Any other aunt may, with perfect propriety, say, "Hullo, duckie, where's auntie?" and pass on. She knows the danger of stopping, and seeks to avoid it. Not so the professional aunt. She realizes the danger and faces it. She knows she will have to wait, for the sake of the child's character, until he shall choose to say, "Ta-ta."

He will probably, if he is a healthy child, say everything he knows but that. He will go through his limited vocabulary in a pathetically obliging manner, making the most beautiful "moo-moos " and "quack-quacks," but he will not say, "Ta-ta." Why should he? On persuasion, and more especially if the interview should take place at a street-corner on a windy March day, he will repeat the "moo-moos" and "quack-quacks" even more successfully than before, and he will wonder in what way they fall short of perfection, since he earns no praise. He likes to be rewarded with, "Kevver boy." We all do, just as a matter of form, if nothing else. Surely ordinary politeness demands it.

He will not say, "Ta-ta," though. Who knows but what it is innate politeness on his part and his way of saying, "Oh, don't go! What a flying visit!"

However, the professional aunt cannot be sure of this, although she can guess; so she must wait patiently, for the sake of Baby's morals and nurse's feelings, until he does say, "Ta-ta." We may suppose that he at last loses his temper and says it, meaning, no doubt, "For goodness sake, go!" if not something stronger. The nurse is satisfied, the aunt is released, and the conscientious objector is wheeled away.

Besides ministering to the soul of a baby the aunt must tend to its bodily needs, and for this reason she must be a good needlewoman.

Before the arrival of the first nephew or niece, when she is very unprofessional, she will hastily put her work under the sofa or behind the cushion when any one comes into the room. As she grows older and more professional, and the nephews and nieces become more numerous, she will give up hiding her work. People who are intimately connected with the family will show no surprise, and to inquisitive strangers, unless she is very religious, she can murmur something about a crèche, so long, of course, as Zerlina is not there.

The really successful aunt, one who is at the top of her profession, can perfectly well be trusted to take all the children to the Zoo alone; that is to say, without a nurse, and of course without the mother. The mother knows how pleased and gratified an aunt feels on being given the entire charge of the children. The nurse is gratified too; in fact every one is pleased, with perhaps the exception of the aunt. But it is against professional etiquette for her to say so. She only wonders why mothers think a privilege they hold so lightly -- taking the children to the Zoo - - should be so esteemed by other women. But as the old story goes, "Hush, darling, hush, the doctor knows best," so must we say, -- Mothers know best."

Another qualification in a professional aunt, desirable if not indispensable, is tact. If she should be possessed of ever so little, it will save her a considerable amount of bother. She won't, in a moment of mental aberration, praise dark-eyed children to Zerlina, whose children have blue eyes. Should she do so, by some unlucky chance, it would take several expeditions to the Zoo, and probably one to Kew, before things were as they were. If Zerlina, however, should, by the expedition of the aunt and children to Kew, be enabled to do something she very much wanted to do, and couldn't, because the nurse's father was ill, and the nursery-maid anemic, the little misunderstanding will have disappeared by the time the aunt returns from Kew, and Zerlina will say, after carefully counting the children, -- it is this mathematical tendency in mothers that hurts an aunt, -- "I do trust you implicitly with the children, dear. You know that; it isn't every one I could trust; you are so capable! I wish I were, but one can't be everything. Of course you don't understand a mother's feelings."

I sometimes wonder why Zerlina always says this to me. I have never pretended to be anything but an aunt.

But to return to my profession. As the children grow older the duties of the aunt become more arduous. For the benefit of schoolboy nephews with exeats, she must have an intimate acquaintance with the Hippodrome, any exhibition going, every place of instruction, of a kind, or amusement. She must be thoroughly up in matinees,, and know what plays are frightfully exciting, and she must have a nice taste in sweets. She need not necessarily eat them; it is perhaps better if she does not. But she must know where the very best are to be procured. She must never get tired. She must love driving in hansoms and going on the top of 'buses. She must know where the white ones go, and where the red ones don't, although a mistake on her part is readily forgiven, if it prolongs the drive without curtailing a performance of any kind. This requires great experience. She must set aside, moreover, a goodly sum every year for professional expenses.

The foregoing are a few of the qualifications which Zerlina thinks essential in aunts. There are others, and the greatest of them is love. Zerlina forgot to mention that.

Chapter II

But Diana! That is another story. Open the windows wide, let in the fresh air, the whispering of trees, the song of the birds, and all that is good and beautiful in nature. The very thought of Diana is sunshine. She is as God meant us to be, happy and good, believing in the goodness of others, slow to find evil in them, quick to forgive it, infinitely pitiful of the sorrows of the suffering. This is Diana, and she has three children, Betty, Hugh, and Sara. Allah be praised!

The Professional Aunt - 1/22

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