The Goddess Speaks

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Not ready to say
uncle to ‘auntie’

By Nadine Kam
Features Editor, Star-Bulletin


"AUNTIE." "Uncle." The words are so innocent, so pure, so simple, so very loaded. On the one hand, there is the authentic auntie and uncle, sister and brother of one's parents.

Then there are people designated auntie and uncle by virtue of stature. Tom Moffatt adopted his "uncle" nickname in his early radio days, eventually earning it by becoming such a familiar, revered figure in concert promotions and entertainment.

But newcomers to Hawaii had better be careful at using these terms of endearment, because there is the use of auntie and uncle as a not-so-subtle hint that one may be past her or his prime, no longer studly, no longer a threat.

Whether true or not, to those younger than them, these kinds of aunties and uncles no longer seem to possess anything remotely resembling a life. They're willing to sit back, plush okole and all, at the backyard luau or birthday party, all ears as the young and vital regale them with tales of adventures or misadventures. They can always be counted on -- bless them! -- to "ooh" and "ahh" over any hi-jinks, never once interjecting niggling details of their own lives. Never mind that "uncle" may have participated in wars or "auntie" scaled the Himalayas a few months ago.

Anyone who is a parent is prime auntie or uncle material, because their lives have already been taken over by PTA meetings and their children's soccer practice, dance and swim lessons.

But trouble arises for those -- like me -- not yet a parent, but definitely of age to be one. At this point, "auntie" becomes something of an honorific with a matronly connotation that's about as welcome as one's first white hair.

At what age does anyone start looking or acting like an auntie or uncle anyway? It's a question that seems to puzzle local musicians most. Kelly Boy De Lima, for instance, recently confessed that he's not yet ready for unclehood, but some have taken to calling him Kelly Man.

A few short years ago, wasn't Willie K. just Willie K.? Nowadays, he's just as often known as Uncle Willie K. How long will it be until Amy Gilliom has an additional tag to her name. And will Sistah Robi ever become Auntie Robi? Perhaps she'll be a "Sistah" as long as she keeps her act solo. Bring in the keiki however, and ...

I know I felt miffed the first -- and only, mind you -- time the word was directed at me, during the 1994 gubernatorial campaign. I was sitting at Bruddah Bu Laia's home, watching the returns on television, when he said something like, "Auntie, you like something to eat?"

"Eeeeeek! Auntie?"

I couldn't think of poke or opihi then. All I could think was that he had used THAT word. Whatever happened to Honey Girl? Or Sistah? There's a psychological lifetime separating a "sistah" from an "auntie."

Then, when I told everyone back at the office they laughed at me, as if this had been my initiation into their club.

Oh, the signs are there, though. I watch the teen-agers strolling down the street where I live with a mixture of hope and envy over their untapped potential. When I watch some of the local television news stations, I no longer see reporters, but kids.

At this point, I have to wonder how far it is to the next stop, kupunahood.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
send it to: The Goddess Speaks, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O.
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