You've been my aunt for as long as I can remember...in fact, as long as I've been alive.
And as long as I've been your niece, you've been simply the coolest. Your kindness, generosity and quiet sense of humor have been a constant in my life, no matter how far away we lived from one another.
When I was younger, just a kid living in Bristol or even once we moved to Queensbury, your house was the fun place to be. You had cool toys to play with, a comfy bed to sleep on, you let me stay up later than my mom and you were fast and loose with the chocolate syrup. I know Josh remembers that last one too. I remember having sleepovers at your house and cooking breakfast in the morning, which always tasted better than at my house, just because I was on "vacation."
I also looked forward to your trips to Queensbury. You'd often come with Gail and Grandma and we'd picnic in the park or sit around playing games at the kitchen table. You've always felt like an extension of my immediate family, since you were around so much when I was growing up. I always appreciated you helping celebrate my birthday and of course, Christmas.
The Christmas party, hosted at your place for as long as I can remember, has been a favorite part of our family holiday tradition. It was the one time of year that all (or most) of the family could commit to getting together, to being in one place, to sharing their joy, to seeing how kids were growing, to eating and drinking for hours. And of course, we all love the Card Game. I don't know if it has a name, an official, Christmas-y name. Because I've always known it simply as the Card Game. Every year, you make sure to have dozens of presents, all wrapped up in boxes, large and small. And every year, we somehow end up vying for the same one and John and Ted steal it from everyone and my dad laughs really loudly when people get huffy, and then one of the little ones takes it and carries it around the room for 5 minutes and we all smile. Every year, the presents help make Christmas special. The amazing spread you guys put together makes Christmas special. Being together makes Christmas special. And you have always worked hard to make that happen.
You've also worked hard for another holiday - well, it's not really a holiday, so much as a party. The summer picnic at my parents’ house has been going on for what - 16 years? 17? And you've been to all but one, I believe. (There was a very important Red Sox game one year, and I will fully attest to the priority that is a very important Red Sox game.) Every year you've come to the picnic, you've arrived early, usually with some food you've made in hand, ready to help set up, play games, snack on appetizers and when it comes to be lunch time - become...the Grill Master. I don't know how you got the job so many years ago, but that's another tradition in our lives. You always make the best cheeseburgers and chicken and hotdogs and you keep the fire going until everyone is happy and fed.
I love our time together, Aunt Eileen.
I love that you guys came to Seattle when we visited the Washington Beckwiths last summer and we got to explore the city, the country, the coast and everything in between. I love that you still come to Queensbury to do Christmas shopping with my mom every year. I love that you have taken the time to get to know and celebrate each one of your sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, in-laws and once-removed-twice-removed-thrice-removed cousins. You are truly a beautiful spirit, and someone I'm lucky to have in my family.
I look forward to more fun times this year and for the years to come - in Vermont, in New York or wherever life happens to take us. (Philly? Boston? PARIS?!) You will always be in my heart, no matter how long it's been since we've seen each other. Wishing you all the best things and lots of joy.