Personal connections are easily lost. People move, people change, relationships end.
Can ragged bonds ever be reforged?
Five women aged from 48 to 63 sit around a table and chat about their lives and families. They share stories of how they, and their mothers or fathers, were named. They swap news about their children and grandchildren, the almost too numerous to count descendants of these women’s, these cousin’s, grandparents.
The woman retell stories of arguments and the deeper pain of family members lost through death or the attrition of indifference.
At family gatherings I remember, our grandfather sat at the head of the table and after dinner he’d play his harmonica. He and the men, sons and sons-in-law, were served whisky. Daughters and daughters-in-law drank shandies or sherry. Our grandfather was Welsh. He worked his passage from the UK to Australia but instead of going on to Sydney, he jumped ship in South Australia, met our grandmother, married and fathered nine children.
Of those, only four remain.
We women, we cousins, are tickled pink with the idea that we are the descendants of a ‘boat person’.
At those same family gatherings our grandmother, a Scot, served Dundee cake. She came to Australia in the hope a warmer climate would improve her health. We women, we cousins, remember her rolling a cigarette with one hand and stirring a pot with the other.
One of the women tells us she makes Dundee cakes every Christmas. She bakes them in individually sized baking pans and sprinkles them, once they are removed from the oven, with Drambuie. When they are cool she wraps them and gives them to her friends.
I am the oldest of these women, these cousins; I remember them as babes, toddlers and beautiful girls full of gumption but I am also the daughter of a mother who caused more than her share of disruption and discomfort in her family. Aware of the pain my mother caused, we women, we cousins, acknowledge her behaviour; we have the words for it now.
The connection between family members can be as fragile as that between friends. A thoughtless word, an offhand comment or unintentional slight can strain the best relationship. Within families it is a brave fragility; the ties are wrought not, as in friendship, from common interests or shared attitudes but from something deeper, something less easily explained, a sense of almost knowing the familial other the way we almost know ourselves.
Five women, cousins aged from 48 to 63, tend the roots, feed the soil and admire the branches of their family tree. It is good work. It is brave work, it is work we promise to do again; it isn’t really work at all.