My Aunt among the Rocks

aunt mildred young girl

My Aunt Mildred, pictured above in her youth, will be having open heart surgery on Tuesday in Springfield, Illinois. I’ll be there with her, remembering her stories of how when I was a small child, she would take me to the gravel road that ran by my grandmother’s house and patiently sit with me while I hunted for rocks, which I found, for whatever reason, fascinating. I have no memory of this, but I feel it in every interaction between us–that patience, that encouragement, that love.

How fortunate I was to have the sort of aunt who would spend so many hours with a little boy who was intent on sorting through rocks. Patience and curiosity are essential to the development of a writer. We deal with those two qualities every day that we push words about the page. Although my aunt may not have known this, she was indulging my curiosity and teaching me that it was okay to take a good close look at things, to push the rocks around until I found some shape, some size, some texture that interested me and made me decide it was a keeper.

It takes time and courage to look closely at something and to see the things that others have passed over. Isn’t that what we do as writers? We poke and poke at situations, characters, images, language until some precious thing emerges, precious because it’s gone unnoticed by so many. We gather that thing up, that truth, and we shape it and we carry it back to the other members of our human tribe. It’s only ours to share, though, because we took the time to look, because we had the heart to care, because we had the need to know what we might find.

My aunt gave me those gifts. I’ve watched her put them to use in her own life: painting landscapes, tatting lace, quilting, growing glorious flowers, collecting antique music boxes. She taught me to look closely and not to be ashamed of an artistic temperament. She taught me that it was not only all right, but also necessary, to search, to find, and to have the courage to say that something is beautiful, or if need be to point out the ugliness that tries to keep us from seeing this glorious life.






  1. Bren McClain on May 5, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Lee, I always find so many gems in your writing. This line, especially, spoke to me today: “It takes time and courage to look closely at something and to see the things that others have passed over.” Thank you so much for all of the wonderful pauses you make in your life to share with us what matters to you. Bren

  2. Lee Martin on May 5, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Thank you, Bren, for your continued friendship.

  3. Twyla Hansen on May 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Lovely essay, Lee! How fortunate you were to have an aunt who spent time with you and nurtured those special abilities, even though at the time you were unaware that is exactly what she was doing. You are doing the same thing. How lucky your students are, even if they are not aware of or appreciate all the gifts you give them. This applies to all teachers, really–thank you!

    • Lee Martin on May 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks so much, Twyla, and please forgive the lateness of my response.

  4. Beth on May 6, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Thank you again, Lee, for wisdom delivered exactly when I need it. I’m getting ready to do my first public talk about my new book, and I’ve been thinking a lot about descriptions of nature and characters, of delving into grief. I see now how that focus, necessary to the writing of things, helped lift me, and made me love my place and my people (characters!) more. You may have given me some words I can use. Thanks again, and keep it up.

    • Lee Martin on May 19, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks so much, Beth. I’m sorry it’s take me so long to respond. I hope your talk goes, or went, well.

  5. Robert Sykes on May 6, 2014 at 11:23 am

    We all should be blessed with an aunt like Mildred or in my case Grace…we don’t hear these names so often anymore but how they represent an era that at some point will return…it is our responsibility to rekindle the values thus creating fertile ground for the future…as always Blessing and Gratitude for your nurturance…

    • Lee Martin on May 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Blessings to you, too, Robert.

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