There was a little family tree planting down in Kent this weekend. My cousin added three fruit trees to the field at the back of their house in memory of her mum and dad and our Aunt Mary. John, as befits a gardener, couldn't wait to get started with his fit for purpose tree-planting spade. Before long he was joined by a posse of young boys crying "Dig for Victory !" and calling him Uncle Arthur (a la Dad's Army). Cousins sawed wood and banged in stakes and unravelled fencing. I stood well back holding my baby godson and let the other fourteen get on with it.
There is something special about the way aunts and uncles shape your life. They are more forgiving it seems to me, their expectations more expansive. They hold you in check - mine did anyway - but they can also give you another space when it's needed. Over a cup of tea, my cousin mentioned that she held our Aunt Rosie entirely responsible for her passion for nail varnish, the same aunt whose stash of bridesmaid's paraphernalia I used to snitch and play with as a child (she was always a bridesmaid and never a bride), the one who loved all the new babies as they came along. It works the other way too. I watch my cousins with my mum and they are much more indulgent than I am, still grateful for the things she did for them when they were children, things that I took for granted.
After supper we marked the tree planting with a little ceremony. The aunts and uncles, mums and dads lit three Chinese lanterns and we watched them float off.
I so hope the children will remember it. And that the lanterns didn't do any damage. I am, after all, the health and safety aunt.