The story of my family and my childhood zoo

My father has one sister: my Aunt Mary.

Photo proof that she exists.

My Aunt Mary is 15 or 16 years older than me; I can never remember exactly. So when I was a little kid, she was a teenager. Despite this, she was always nice to me, no matter what. As I got older, she used to take me places like the park and the head shop. Strawberry picking and to lunch. Shopping and to the mausoleum.

I liked the mausoleum a lot. I feel like she probably took me there once on a whim and deeply regretted it. Like, after that, the mausoleum was more a frequent request from yours truly more than it was her idea.

Aunt Mary and me, Xmas 1970. That was a purple foot-shaped throw rug that I loved.

Aunt Mary is the one who used to take me out for donuts and then tell me I couldn’t have the gaudy holiday-themed one.

Aunt Mary and me at my 7th birthday

She also, very often, took me to the zoo. I think we went to the zoo the most.

Me with my Pal from MA at the, yes, zoo.

I’m certain, if I drag down my actual photos and comb through each one, that I could find photos of Aunt Mary and me at the zoo. At least I hope I could. Somewhere we must have documented Aunt Mary and me at my childhood zoo. But even if a photo doesn’t exist anywhere, memories of going to the zoo with my Aunt Mary are among my happiest.

My mother also has one sister: my Aunt Kathy. She is similarly around 15 years older than me; I can never remember exactly. My memories of my Aunt Kathy are of her being scared of my gramma’s parakeets when they got loose, of her throwing up onto carefully laid newspaper from the couch where she’d been lying with a hot water bottle, and of watching her knit something and imitating her as best I could. These don’t SOUND particularly cheerful but they really are cozy lovely Aunt Kathy memories. You have to know her to understand.

I also can’t hear a Beatles song without hearing my Aunt Kathy singing along in a high voice. She’s why I love Gone With the Wind and General Hospital. She loves cats and dogs the way I do, and we share the “What’s that bump, I’m dying” anxiety.

She gave me my favorite gift ever: My Tinkerbell doll.

I just like it because it’s gaudy.

The point is, eventually Aunt Kathy got married to my Uncle Leo and they had two children: my cousin Katie and my cousin Maria. I was a teenager when they were born. I’m maybe 14 or 15 years older than Maria. I can never remember.

Maria, Aunt Kathy and Katie

As we all know, I’m more of a cat person and less of a baby person. Babies have never been my forte. But when Katie and Maria were little, I took them to the zoo all the time. I enjoyed them even though they weren’t cats.

Katie and me at the zoo in 1994.

I took them to the zoo because my Aunt Mary took me. I took them to the zoo because I love my childhood zoo. I took them to the zoo because it’s what you just do.

I may also have dragged them to the mausoleum a time or two.

The point of telling you all of this is that today is my cousin Maria’s 40th birthday, and I am officially old. When I texted her to say many happy returns, she texted me back.

“I’m going to the zoo today,” she wrote. “Because it’s a cherished memory from my childhood.”

Just like going to the zoo was a cherished memory for me!

My Aunt Mary gave me something I’ll never forget, and I gave that to Maria without even realizing it. I guess I wanted her to have the same good memories I had, and it worked.

It’s also inescapable that she has some memory of my Aunt Kathy throwing up, but that’s beside the point right now.

My cousin at the zoo today.

This afternoon, Maria texted me a picture from the zoo. Maria’s in the turquoise dress, and on the left is her daughter, Anna, of the “Aunt Katie, are you a lesbian?” fame. In the middle is my Uncle Leo, who’s always up for a trip to the zoo.

Maybe one day Anna will have kids, and she’ll take them to the zoo, and the tradition will continue. (Maybe their second cousin June will take those kids to the mausoleum for some real fun.)

Anyway. That is the story of my family and my childhood zoo and our good memories and, of course, throwing up and death had to make their way in there somewhere. Because it’s the way of my family.


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At one point, I was sort of hot, in a "she's 27 and probably a 7" kind of a way. Now I'm old and have to develop a charming personality. Guess how that's going.

56 thoughts on “The story of my family and my childhood zoo”

  1. Lovely post, June!
    I was reading along and nodding my head, yes, I know who Aunt Mary is. Yes, I know Aunt Kathy, who was once married to Uncle Leo. I love that I am keeping up!!!

    I also wanted to be singing Tradition from the musical Fiddler on the Roof.


  2. This is one of my favorite blogs. My baby is 40 and I’m older than dirt. Aunt Kathy


    1. Dear Aunt Kathy,
      My first baby will be 40 next year. I’m right there with you. But I was a practically a fetus myself when she was born. Or so I tell myself.


  3. What an enjoyable post. Loved reading about your cherished childhood memories.

    Happy birthday to Maria and soon to Pal from MA.


  4. I am thrilled to be even a small part of this post! I remember our trips to the zoo very fondly. I am so glad we lived on Wisner Street for my first six years! Crazy we’ve known each other over 50 years now! My birthday is in one week – and I will be 54, then in a few months you will be, as well. That’s nuts to me. Totally crazy.

    Loved this post.


    1. Are you gonna do the thing you did when we were little? LORD your advanced year over me for the next six weeks? “Now that I’m 7, I have so much more wisdom.” “I get to go first, because I’m 4 now.”


  5. Lovely post Coot.
    My uncle was the plumbing contractor for our local zoo growing up. He took my sister and me into the lion’s den before the zoo opened. We were all freaked out because, you know, it was the lion’s den. He made us believe the lions were just beyond the door that opened and closed letting them in and out of the enclosure. We were all huddled in the corner and he snuck into the lion’s room or den or whatever the hell that dungeon was and made roaring noises. Then he snapped the door open and roared out of there roaring. I peed my pants, we all laughed. I was 5. So yeah, that’s my family zoo story.


  6. I love this. Now I’m trying to think of something similar from my childhood but I’m coming up blank. think think think (like Winnie the Pooh)


  7. I have taken my second cousins to the zoo and we all loved it. I hope my visits and doing things with them have created happy memories. I think they have because they still love coming to see me or when I visit them. I enjoy being the fun aunt or cousin even though I don’t have and didn’t want any children of my own. All the fun without having to deal with the bad things! Thanks for the lovely post, June.


  8. Thank you for sharing these memories. I loved my childhood zoo too. Of course it was the San Diego zoo so how could I not? I used to walk through it imagining I could stay there always and picking out places to camp in the trees. I loved all of the trees and plants almost as much as the animals.


  9. The one time I read in the morning – I discover that you posted this last night?! While I was at my son’s high school graduation. I too enjoyed this post. I am a zoo person. I took the kids I sat for all thru high school and college to the zoo a million times, and then eventually my nieces and nephews and my kids. Still going there with the tots I sit for. Such great memories. None of my aunts and uncles are that close in age to me, but I have very distinctive memories of them. I have an aunt who hid in my parent’s master bathroom to smoke. I have an uncle who called everyone ‘Ace’ and could always make me feel special – which was easy because I was the middle child just dying for attention. I have an uncle that used to give us ‘boat’ rides on his knee and eventually (after he breathe on you b/c it was sunny on the boat, and blew in your hair b/c there was a storm brewing) the boat would crash and he would toss us to the ground – as the next kid stood there begging for his/her turn. Of all my family members, my memories go back the farthest and must be the clearest – no one remembers things like I do. Too bad I cannot find a way to cash in on this awesome ‘talent.’


  10. It is nice to know that we do impact peoples lives in a good way. A way that makes us smile and love. Passing it on , a good gift without costing us a dime. Given freely, because we love and are loved.


  11. Ahh I loved this post too and had those emotional tears too – like someone mentioned. And I am not quite certain why. Perhaps it is that I miss what was and ended and what I wish could have been… and that I am glad i was a part of it at least for a while…. Sigh
    Love this family – all so sentimental… Do you recall your grandma saying (often) that her bladder was too close to her eyeballs…. ha ha


  12. I feel like a little old lady aunt because my response to this whole post is “well I just love this to pieces!”


  13. What a beautiful post! I love the purple hair!

    But I want to hear more about the mausoleum. Was this just a lone mausoleum or did you haunt cemeteries, no pun intended.

    Someone who loves exploring cemeteries.


  14. This is officially my favorite blog post ever. None will ever replace it in my heart. For some reason I am crying. I don’t know why but I do know you tapped some unnamed emotion in me.

    I pray and hope I have given my niece and nephews these kind of memories of me. They call me Bubbles. It is my favorite name other than Mom.

    Thank you. I think these are melancholy but happy tears.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This was a truly lovely post! I love all the pictures too!! Happy childhood memories are the best! Thank you for sharing yours with us!


  16. Love this! I just took my neice and nephew to the bookstore. We didn’t have a zoo…..


    1. I just read somewhere that it’s fort, but I will continue to proudly pronounce it forTAY.


  17. Wonderful post! Cherished memories are so special and they are being passed on to the younger generation.


  18. This is such a great post. I find myself wanting to be my Aunt Sue, for my nieces and nephew, and my friends’ kids who are my “nieces and nephews.” I hope they have such memories of their Aunt Fay.


  19. Aww, that’s so sweet! I’ll be way older than any nieces or nephews (since I don’t even have any yet), but I hope maybe I’ll be a fun aunt who takes them places.

    Also, I just have to say that the internet has made me pessimistic. With no preface to a sweet, reminiscing story like this, or especially one about a pet, I find myself reading through anxiously certain that it’s going to end with the terrible news that someone has died. So then I read through again, knowing that all is well. Yes, I have issues.


    1. Natalie, I TOTALLY did the same thing. Sure hope Paula doesn’t. Oh, wait, she’s on Vicodin. “Hoo care.”

      Great post! I’m sure we all have something we’ve passed down to the youngsters.


      1. I TOTALLY read this post waiting to see who died. (The Vicodin is useless, btw.) This was a wonderful post filled with great memories. Good Job, June. Or as they say in Sveden, Goot Yob, Yoon. (Hmm. Maybe the Vicodin is having *some* effect.)


    2. I was also about to comment saying I’d been holding my breath waiting to see who died. Read down here and thought “Oh good, I’m not the only crazy one. Oh, wait, that’s my daughter commenting…” 😃

      June, I loved this post and the neat relationships in your family; I wish I’d had a cool young aunt but mine were…not. I do have a cousin 7 years older than me who took me under her wing when I was a teenager, but I was more of a project to her than a friend. You’re a good aunt and your aunts are, too.


  20. Lovely memories! Funny how our favorite memories can be unexpected and unplanned. I love how you unknowingly passed on a cherished memory. A niece just told me why she loves me. I gave her a hug at a moment when she, as a troubled teenager, needed it most and I didn’t realize it. Isn’t it a good feeling to discover that at least once in our lives we did something right?! Thank you for telling us this memory.


  21. Weeping at the beauty of the writing and the memories. Weeping because it evokes my own cherished memories of special family rituals.


  22. Ooh! An evening edition! I haven’t even read it yet, so excited I had to post my joy.


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