She's like a cross between a cool big sister and your Mama—and she's the best aunt ever.


If you're a Southern girl with a couple of "best aunties" in your corner, you'll never want for tableware, linens, Christmas decorations, go-to recipes, Easter dresses, centerpiece know-how, wedding coordinators, or family heirlooms. In a Southern family, aunts are special, and they take a fierce interest in their nieces and nephews.

I'm just a few birthdays shy of a Medicare card, but my Aunt Boots still calls me "Baby Girl," and I adore her for that.

I used to call Aunt Joyce my press agent because she bragged about everything I did to anybody who would listen—and if they weren't inclined to listen, she would make it clear that they were going to, whether they liked it or not. Nobody messed with Aunt Joyce.

My Aunt Vivian always set the prettiest table and used her Gorham Buttercup sterling for everyday. She gave me my first serious tablecloth and was forever "slippin'" me hand-painted china plates and cups to decorate my spare apartment when I first went to work. Aunt Grace taught me the fine art of making cornbread dressing and keeps me supplied with Christmas decorations. Aunt Patsy used to think it was hilarious that I loved to raid her house when she cleaned out closets so I could snap up her son's discarded sweaters and polos. (They were nice and baggy on me back then. Now? Not so much.)

These ladies have always been special to my family in particular, but there are traits that just about all Southern aunts share. Here are a few that come to mind—let us know what we missed:

Your aunt can (sometimes) rein in Mama.

This only works if she's the older sister. Mama probably bosses her baby sis even more than she bosses you.

You can test-drive information on her.

Not sure how Mama will react when she finds out you've changed your major from pre-law to archaeology? Ask your aunt.

She doesn't have to be "blood kin" to be addressed as Aunt Kitty.

If she's your Mama's very special first cousin—and Mama's age—you probably call her "aunt." If she's the aunt of your maternal cousins but related on their father's side—hence no relation to you—you'll still call her "aunt" if you see her often and she "just thinks the world of you."

While Mama issues commands, Southern aunts nudge you in the right direction with thought-provoking questions.

"Oh, honey, Aunt Sissy thinks it's wonderful that you've fallen in love with a professional juggler. How long you reckon you'll have to juggle bills before he finds a steady job?"

She will always be on your side—or at least, she'll make you think she is.

Aunts can sometimes be recruited as Mama's double agents. But they love you so much, it's hard to hold that against them. You of all people know how Mama can be.

Sure Southern aunts are close to their nieces, but they've got those nephews' backs, too. If Mama goes off the deep end with her latest list of rules and regulations, you can count on Aunt Sugar to jump in there and rescue Junior.