What is a good aunt’s legacy? What does a woman without children leave behind in the world?
One of the women I spoke with wants to make sure her American niece knew the Nancy the Spider (or Anansi) stories that she inherited from her African background. Another spoke of her struggle over not having somebody to pass material things down to, saying with a bit of relief, “That’s where my nieces come in.” Others spoke of the way they are teaching nieces and nephews to carry on other family traditions: baking together or learning to cook a family recipe, going on family vacations together, and passing on the stories of past generations.
For those of us without children who have family heirlooms and traditions we want to pass down, this issue of heirs can be something that weighs on our minds. What will be our legacy when we’re gone?
Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
In leaving no descendents, [sic] however, childless aunts do tend to
vanish from memory after a mere generation, quickly forgotten, their
lives as transitory as butterflies. But they are vital as they live, and they
can even be heroic. … Often able to accrue education and resources
precisely because they were childless, these women had enough spare
income and compassion to pay for livesaving operations, or to rescue
the family farm, or to take in a child whose mother had fallen gravely ill. (Committed, 192) Continue reading