An Expert's Lessons on Being an Aunt Many families have a special aunt, who delights her nieces and nephews. For Karen Washabau, that aunt was known simply as "Mef." As she recalls, "I never kept a diary in high school; I just wrote letters to Mef."

An Expert's Lessons on Being an Aunt

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On Fridays we hear from StoryCorps. Loved ones and friends are asking each other questions about their lives. Their conversations are adding up to an oral history of America.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This week, Karen Washabau tells her husband Dave about her late aunt. The aunt's name was Mary Elizabeth Ford, Ms. Ford or Mef for short.

Ms. KAREN WASHABAU: She lived a really independent life. She never wed and so all her life she said the most important thing to her was being devoted to my brothers and me as an aunt.

Mr. DAVE WASHABAU: Is there any one thing that you miss most about not having her around?

Ms. WASHABAU: Oh, you know, she was just so good at giving solid advice. She was a friend. She was just my very best friend and I really miss that.

Probably the most wonderful thing she gave me, in addition to just some strength of character, was 450 to 500 letters of mine that I wrote her that she saved for me. And we found these 500 letters when we were cleaning out her house. They were stuffed in the back of a little cupboard.

And some of the things that were captured in those letters - a really good sense of how much she meant to me. For example, I never kept a diary in high school. Instead, I just wrote letters to Mef, and I knew she would never divulge them and I knew she would respect what I was saying.

So, you know, starting in 7th grade, she got a litany of letters about boy troubles. And in a letter I wrote to her back in 1962 I was complaining about boys again and I started with this: Dear Mef, All this is is one big sob story so be prepared.

And then I go on for like three pages of note paper. It was like having my own personal Ann Landers. So at the end of the letter I say: But then, what are aunts for?

So I mailed that on a Wednesday, and the next Monday she writes me a response. And this letter is kind of worn and torn and it's a testimony to how many times I looked at that letter in the course of my life. And she says:

Dear Karen, enclosed is a prompt answer to your question: What are aunts for? Well, I found this quote years ago in a book called Mrs. Miniver and here's what I think aunts are for. Aunts are to be a pattern and example to all aunts and to show that at least one daughter in any generation, in every generation, ought to remain unmarried and raise the profession of auntship to a fine art.

She ends by saying: Thank you, Karen, for reminding me of this. I shall have to keep trying again and again to live up to it.

And I would have to say that she not only raised auntship to that high art, I would say that Mef was probably the gold standard.

INSKEEP: That's Karen Washabau remembering her aunt, Mary Elizabeth Ford.

This conversation and all StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And you can learn how to record your StoryCorps interview by going to

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