Last week I posted some photos for friends and family, the last in a series of old photographs that dad had scanned and shared with my brother and I. He started with the 1990’s, pre-digital photography, and went backwards; all the way to the 1940’s.
So there has been lots of laughter as we relooked at our ‘cool’ younger selves, tears as we remembered loved ones no longer here, and questions about who, where and when. Overall, it has been a lovely time of reconnecting.
As some of the questions came in, I realised that many of these old photos I’d poured over in my younger days were unfamiliar to others in the family. It raised the question in my mind about why I’d been so interested back then. The short answer, I reflected back, was that I was always asking “who am I?” There was always a deeper yearning to connect those outer and inner worlds.
However, it got me thinking about the role of family in our lives, particularly as this year marks 10 years since gran died at age 100, outliving her last husband by more than 50 years. It also marks 30 years since our other grandparents both died within a few short months of each other.
My gran created an amazing legacy. She really was an unassuming person, having been brought up in an era where it wasn’t polite to speak unless spoken to, express your opinions nor speak ill of others. As a consequence, she rarely spoke about much of anything, but she really enjoyed hearing about how we (her family) were all getting along in our lives.
I can remember her being asked all about her life. “Mrs J” my friend would start, and you could see her brace for another question about the Titanic sinking, or one of the world wars, or some other amazing moment in history that was woven into the fabric of her life. She divulged little. What I learned came through others, despite the many hours I spent in her company.
She had 5 children, 3 boys, my uncles (now all gone) and, later, 2 girls, my mum and aunt. For much of her time bringing up the children she was a single parent, which I think created a closer bond within the family – except the eldest who, instead of returning from the second world war, sought only permission to marry an Australian girl and remained there for the rest of his days.
Between them all, I have 20 cousins on that side of the family, albeit 8 are in Australia, but the other 14 were an integral part of my earlier years. Growing up there was always someone getting married or having another child, I think we counted 37 great grandchildren at gran’s death, now more – with yet another generation underway.
On the other side of the family, despite the death of my grandparents 30 years ago when I was in my early teens, we have some wonderfully matriarchal great aunts who keep the connections alive. Our Canadian ranks are particularly fabulous at maintaining those links.
Sharing these photographs of earlier memories, it struck me how lucky I was to have such a large and diverse extended family. Some members of the family I would count as close friends, and conversely some friends I have are like family, each are a part of who I am.
These notions we have of family and what it should be are always interesting. As I say, mine is a large extended family, so the sheer numbers gave us a good chance of finding others within it we could relate to and rely upon. Those we have strong feelings about, either about a positive trait we might relate to or admire, or a so called negative trait that we do not, are likely those closet to us; reflecting the parts of ourselves we least and most like.
Like gran, I am always interested in hearing how people in the family are getting along. More than that, I’m grateful for the sense of belonging I have to a network of related people who have been spread globally my entire life.
In a world where people and family are now less likely to be part of a locally based community, this electronic means of instantaneous communication provides connection and continuity to what we have previously had. When their grandparents arrive each year for a visit, it’s thanks to Skype calling that my daughters excitedly run straight out to their car the minute they arrive, instead of going through the usual shy phase.
This year marked my mum’s 70th birthday, a sort of line in the sand where we planned to revisit my country of birth and have a bit of a family reunion. However, kids, cash and logistics got in the way. Despite all the derisory comments I hear, and have made myself, about social media, sharing these old family photos has created a reunion of its own kind and the feeling of connectedness is still strong.
Whatever you feel about your family, they reflect parts of yourself that are useful to understand. However also consider family as more an adjective than a noun, like home. Many relate more to a notion or feeling of family than to their actual circumstances. Inside there is a deep sense of what family or home should feel like and we all crave it.
That is what I felt as we reveled in the photos, moments that connected with those broader feelings, a sense of wholeness and oneness, a sense that we are family and I am home.
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