Of Family and other Connections

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.

from-old-iphone-778-2The 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.

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17 thoughts on “Of Family and other Connections

  1. Recently I watched a documentary about how German education includes a coming to terms with the past of their ancestors. Similarly, I have met and have German friends who have also spoken about this, often quite emotionally.
    Instead, I received a history of Britain’s “glorious” and “victorious” past and believe that American education is similar. I moved to Ireland, where I learned a very different perspective on British history. One for which I’m very grateful.
    Your post made me think that there can never be peace unless countries who have inflicted so much pain, destruction, servitude and slavery on various peoples need to acknowledge, come to terms with, apologise for and then forgive ancestral actions, just like your family is doing. It is only when the conversation is had that healing can begin.

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  2. This post set me thinking, wondering, remembering. Not that I rarely do it. But it’s not always a pleasant pass time 😦 Two of your quotes hit me. One on family baggage and how we carry it – I wish my baggage was lighter, but turns out its weight is subjective. The other is wether ragged bonds can be forged. My first reaction was – no need! Bonds get ragged and die for a good reason. But… every so often I wish we – all who remained – sat down at table and “tend thr roots, feed the soil and admire the branches”.

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    1. Thank you for this comment. I’m a far from perfect example, not all the branches of my family tree are well tended. I wonder, however, if the branches that have been lopped off, or fallen off, simply needed to be replanted elsewhere? If this is so, all we can do is hope they grow well and grow strong.

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  3. A touching post. I’ve yearned for family. My mother’s cousin’s son Is the only relative I am aware of and am in contact. I believe I was named after his grandmother! No family baggage that I’m aware of. However would love to compare notes on the family history we know of.

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    1. Ah, family baggage. It’s not that we have it (we all do), it’s how we carry it that counts. I can’t imagine how not having an extended family must affect you, Kathy, but I think I know how it feels to wonder about the relations we haven’t met and how they might be faring.

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  4. This post is very beautiful Janet. My parents and the next generation’s grandparents would be very proud too. My birth certificate shows, previous children of the relationship 7 living, 2 deceased, which makes me the tenth child. Add in Nadine Frances who was born after me(not stillborn, but they saved Mum instead and the baby died in a short interval after birth.) Gilbert Ross was a live birth also and died 3-4 weeks later at home.) So there were actually 11 births that Mum went through. Cynthia would have had a twin but the foetus did not survive the full term. It is a miracle that Cynthia survived and went on to become full term given the era that she was born.
    She was the only one to have two sets of twin grandchildren. Cheers, Chris.

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    1. Thank you dear Pamela Christine, dear Aunt. I remember my mother saying ‘My mother had twelve pregnancies and raised nine children,’ so I welcome your input. My mother’s greatest, I think, grief came from the loss of her baby brother, Huw, when she was twelve. I have also written about that (what I know about it) but it is a much longer story. Take care and thanks again, Janet xx

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    1. Might depend on the whisky! I’ve been to Scotland for hols a couple of times over the last couple of years, and whisky tasting is a must when there. Formerly quite averse to the stuff, I do have a new appreciation for the subtle and complex flavours and differences between different varieties.

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