Friday, 4 April 2008

R = Relatives

I grew up in a rural district surrounding a small town. All our cousins on my father’s side lived within about 15 minutes drive. Two of them went to our tiny school – Gavin was in my year, Stephen in my sister’s. We grew up together.

Family gatherings were big and busy. Perhaps that was the way of an Irish Catholic heritage, or perhaps just the way of farming families in those days. The men would get together for a drink (some enjoyed it too much, a family failing it seems, that Irish heritage to blame), the women provided the food, all the while gossiping and sipping on a sherry. The children were invariably outside, regardless of the weather – playing tag, cricket or softball, hide and seek. It was, usually, happy and carefree.

But as we grew up, we grew apart. I started noticing differences. I remember asking a very young cousin how she liked school, as she had started only a few months earlier. Her mother answered for her. “Oh Becky hates school, don’t you Becky?” I was shocked three ways. Why was she not allowed to answer herself? Did her mother want her to dislike school? She seemed to encourage or even create that dislike. And anyway, how could anyone not like school in the first place?

My father died almost three years ago. The funeral was, as these things tend to be, something of a reunion. I realised I had not seen most of my cousins for 20 years. About half attended, those still living in the region. The two I wanted to see most, Gavin and Stephen, had not been able to make it. Whilst it was good to see my cousins, in most cases conversation quickly dried up. I lived in the city, and had lived and worked extensively overseas. I was the first in the family to go to university, let alone graduate with a Masters degree. They had stayed in the district, built farms and businesses and families. Good lives. Productive lives. But very different lives.

I was hurt that (with the exception of Gary and his lovely wife) they didn’t make the effort to catch up more. There is a lot we had shared, after all. Actually, I think I was more disappointed they didn’t see it as an opportunity to pay their respects to my father, who as the oldest had done a lot for the wider family.

When I was writing my x365 blog, I found it extremely hard to write about most of my relatives. I couldn’t write too many in sequence - I found it depressing. I’m just not sure I like that many of them. That is hard to write.

So I wonder when, or if, I’ll see any or all of them again. I wonder if that will bother me. I wonder if it should bother me.

Is blood really thicker than water? Does our shared childhood, our shared bloodline, mean that I should make a point of seeing them more? Is that why it seems to matter to me?


  1. I'd say the answer to all those questions is probably 'no'. it's only thicker when there's something else added by the same kind of sharedness that makes friendship,and at least water can't curdle: but this is coming from a mover on like yourself......

  2. The last time I was in a big room filled with my dad's family, I thought of the line from some movie (Home for Christmas? Something cheesy like that) that went, "If I ran into you in the grocery store and you gave me your phone number, I'd throw it away." Most of my relative are people I have nothing in common with and I don't have any desire for that to change.

    I have cousins i haven't met; I have cousins whose children I can't name. Sometimes I worry this will happen for my own kids with my family or Mike's, but I can't engineer the future (as much as my mother in law wishes she could).

  3. The phrase "I’m just not sure I like that many of them" might point to an answer.

    But there is something peculiar to family and that niggling thought that somehow, one should have some sort of connection with them. I don't know why. For the most part, they're people I have nothing in common with.

  4. When my parents died in 1989 I lost touch with ALL of my relatives: family quabbles and all that. I'm orphaned in a happy way.


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