Family reunion

I wrote this a few months back, at the start of the summer, following a family reunion. It’s a bit soppier and more sentimental than the usual stuff I post on this site, in fact I don’t think there are any bum jokes in it at all. Usual service will be resumed soon.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t often think with any depth about the people and places that are important to me.

This weekend, my parents held a party for my mum’s 60th birthday. She’s the youngest of five siblings and the other four all made it from around the world for at least a day or two either side of the party, bringing assorted spouses, children and grandchildren along.

The party and the few days either side were a precious, unique window in the timeline of our extended family. Generations crossed one another for a few days, as many of my cohort turned up with toddlers and new babies in tow, while relatives into their 90s joined the party. It is very likely to be the only time that particular group of people will ever assemble in the same room.

Two-year-olds who had never previously met chased one another round and round the house, ducking between grownups’ legs, squabbling over toys and rolling about on the floor at the sheer joy of each others’ company. Above their heads, my parents’ generation sketched out family trees and swapped notes on long-dead ancestors. As the generation above them has thinned out, the sixty-somethings all seem to have become fascinated by their family history. I’m sure I will become interested too, if I live long enough to become part of the apex generation.

It was strangely bittersweet to watch the passage of time affecting the people and places that are important to me. Swapping notes on parenting with slightly-older cousins who once seemed impossibly grown up. Seeing self-assured people showing signs of frailty. Being reminded that even ever-present, larger-than-life characters are mortal too. Of course I’ve always known that fact, it is an obvious thing to say, but I’ve been very lucky never to lose anyone close to me before their time. In fact, very few of my parents’ generation show any signs of slowing down. It’s the scarcity of these times when we can meet all together that makes me wonder what state we will all be in when the next one rolls around.

My generation – the bright-eyed kids who squabbled over possession of the sandpit in my parents’ garden – now have our share of grey hairs, bald heads and character lines. As we grew up, the sandpit became a fire-pit, around which our teenaged selves drank beer and told rude jokes thinking we were out of earshot of the grownups. This weekend we considered getting some wood in for the fire-pit, but realised that most of the former tearaways would now be inside for much of the evening, putting kids to bed. And my parents’ generation, now responsibility-free, feel the chill too much to sit round an outdoor fire. Some time this summer, the fire-pit will turn back into a sandpit for the grandchildren.

My parents have done a lot of work on the family home in recent years. They’ve extended, they’ve redecorated and they’ve replaced almost all the fixtures and furniture. Time has changed the place as well as the people, it is no longer really the house I grew up in. Apart from the shape of most of the walls, little remains the same from childhood photos. But that’s not to criticise. It’s much nicer now that the carpets aren’t threadbare and the stuffing isn’t belching from the arms of the third-hand sofa. My old home is now a place where new memories are being built. The place I hope my children will remember with fondness. Grandma and granddad’s house.

The evening of the party, when it was mostly just family left, the singing started. My mum, her brother and her three sisters stood together singing Irish and Scottish folk songs their dad had taught them. The previous time they’d all met together and sung like that had been at his funeral. Now, though, it was joyous.

The party eventually broke up and family members returned home over the next few days. As they left, they all said things like “We must do this again soon” and “We can’t let the next time we meet like this be a funeral”. My mum said they’d like to have another party like this in five years. My dad said it’d be better in two, he couldn’t be sure they’d all have the energy again in five. I hope they do both.

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