Aged Aunt


Eilie, in white hat, white dress, white shoes, long before she used to call herself our “Aged Aunt”.

Next Tuesday, May 12th, would be the birthday of our beloved Aunt, Eileen May.

Surely it can’t be twenty years since you died. Your laughter still rings in my ears, partly shocked, partly amused. You put up with us running in and out of your house, eating your cakes, rifling through your drawers. You were our most exciting relative. You weren’t a woman with children. You had a job, or as our mother said, you ‘went out to business.’ You were the first person we knew who went ‘overseas’ on a big ship, to England and Italy. You learnt Italian, and read a magazine called Oggi. You belonged to the Atheneum Library, and took me to the opera when I was seven years old.

Later, after your father died and you moved to the other side of town, you came every Sunday to visit our mother, your sister. We loved to hear you talk about the little bush school with the teacher Khan Soo, always asleep, and of your local hospital, where the nursery was so quiet because of the nurse’s heavy hand with the laudanum. Your life was so different from ours, you and our mother and your little brother in a big house in the country with a maid to do the work.

Dear Bushwalking, Bird Observing Aunt, we still miss you, but even though it’s twenty years since you left this life, you remain vividly in our hearts.

This poem Poet Gert wrote after you died says it all so well.


Dying, she took to counting.

Ninety years, winnowed

to a calm stream of numbers

falling with foreign patience

into the busy air.

Nurses came and went.

Our voices slid

on bright linoleum.


It seems impossible to have no secrets

and yet she made no sign.

I never knew her to falter

or, looking back,

to soothe herself by explanation.

By small degrees necessity

wore to the heft

of a tool in a capable hand.


Counting on, persistence,

counting down, completion.

The house is cleared and closed.

Austere aunt

sensible as clean water

we are still looking for you.


Joan Kerr 2002

14 thoughts on “Aged Aunt

      1. I like that way of putting it. I’m finding that working on family history has the benefit of keeping me feeling younger than them. Delusional, in a way, but pleasant. My model aunt was a nurse at Anzio in WWII, had impeccable taste in clothes, never married, had a career, and could be quite disapproving of some of us hellions. But she was also generous, and listened, and was everyone’s favorite.

  1. Although I never met her somehow she was very vivid to me .You were lucky to have a women like Eileen in your family as a role model.

  2. That’s a beautiful poem. Your aunt sounds like a wonderful woman – that really comes through from the memories you’ve shared here. I have two big family anniversaries in 2020, as it’s 45 years since my dad died (aged 45) and 30 years for my mum. A cliche, I know, but time really is a great healer…

  3. Everyone needs an aunt like that Gert. These are remarkable women who lead the way in the world for the rest of us.

  4. Wonderful poem Gert! I too had a special aunt, who went on a holiday to Europe, a thing unheard of in my family. She was my father’s sister and I was named after her.

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