When I was little, I resented visits to relatives. They generally involved a long trip in the car (throughout which I would want to vomit and/or urinate), followed by food. Although food usually meant something more elaborate and interesting than everyday fare, it didn’t compensate for what inevitably followed.
We would sit there, the adults would talk, and I would grow progressively more bored as I waited for the time when we could get back into the car and go home. That would invariably be an hour or so later than the previously promised departure time, and I always resented it.
Back in the car for the journey across the country to wherever we were then living, my imagination could run wild. The orange glow from the sodium lamps of a distant conurbation would become a vast conflagration. The tail lights of another car, spotted far away through trees or across a field were the glowing eyes of a ravenous, possibly demonic, wolf, waiting to eat me.
Recently, I haven’t seen much of my more distant relations. With living in different countries and various other factors, I have missed most of the chances to meet them.
Funerals aren’t the most joyous occasions, but they do represent a chance to bring a large number of people with a common link together. I couldn’t attend the funeral of one of my great-uncles last year, because I had a university final exam, and I regretted that. Not just in an abstract sense of saying goodbye, but in the more concrete sense of being able to see the surviving members of the family.
My cousin got married last week, but I couldn’t go. Wrong continent. I mean, I reckon that weddings are best enjoyed by the participants—there’s not so much in it for the guests, and free booze lost its appeal since I left my teens—but despite my cynicism, it would have been nice to have been there if I hadn’t been on the wrong side of the world. At this rate, the only wedding I’ll ever get to go to will be my own!
Then, this morning, I learned that another great-uncle—one of the people whom I would have had the chance to meet on both those occasions—well, all I can say is that I have missed that chance forever.
On the one hand, he wasn’t someone that I knew particularly well; geography meant that we met only rarely, and in the last few years, not at all. However, there is still a sense of family, of people who have a genetic connection and a shared history. I’ve also come to understand that, by the time you get to the age where you realise that there’s a whole lot that you can learn from older people, you’ve missed most of your chances.
I’ve never lived close to most of my relatives. I find it hard to understand the circumstance of people who can walk around to their grandparents’ house for tea, or cycle over to visit their cousins. Relatives have, for me, always been a kind of high-days-and-holy-days sort of affair. However, even though I’m used to it, I feel incredibly far away at the moment.
I’m also worried that, having been absent from all the big events of the last few years, I’ll simply be forgotten. I suppose that there are two possibilities. Either I’ll be forgotten, or I’ll attain some kind of mythical status, always in some far-off place. I wonder which.