More Sunday stuff: Family

A dull start to the day here has got me thinking about things, family in particular.

There is an old saying that ‘You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’. That’s right of course, as from the moment we are born, we are stuck with the family that surrounds us, good or bad.

There is not only your mum and dad to consider. Grandparents, uncles and aunts; cousins, close or distant. And the families of their wives or husbands too. Before you know it, that family that once seemed so small has become very large indeed, and it is hard to get your head around who is who, and where they fit in.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there were other adults called aunt or uncle. But they were not relatives, just friends or neighbours that had become so familiar, they were accepted into your wider family. Then there were their children, and their brothers and sisters too.

By the time I was ten years old, I was hardly able to keep track of everyone who was actually in my family, or attached to it in some way. But on the plus side, with two exceptions, they all lived within walking distance then, so would be seen all the time. With that familiarity came a level of understanding of where they fitted in.

But that was only my mum’s family. I still had another one to get to grips with.

My dad’s family lived some distance away, but car ownership and regular weekend visits meant that I could get a handle on who they were too. More aunts and uncles, more cousins, more wives and husbands. It didn’t take me long to realise that any meeting of both families, perhaps at a wedding or funeral, was going to involve trying to remember a great many names and faces. As I was paraded in front of adults who remarked how big I was getting, or how much I looked like my mum’s brother, I scanned my brain to try to recall who they were, and even what side of my family they came from.

I once estimated, that including the families of the men and women married to my aunts and uncles, and some great aunts and uncles who seemed very ancient to me, we could probably muster almost two hundred people, in the same room. Fortunately, that never happened, as there were always a few who couldn’t make it to a particular occasion. Had everyone actually turned up at once, my young brain would never have been able to cope.

The modern world has given us the Internet, and with it the facility to research family trees, and compile them as a document. But this doesn’t allow for the many who were not actually related by blood, but were just as important, and still are. Back then, all we had were photo albums. Baby photos, holiday snaps, and pictures of weddings, mostly taken by professionals at the time. Huge groups of well-dressed people smiling at the camera, many of them completely unknown to me. My mum would sit me down and go through them. Her finger traced the faces as she told me who they were, and how they were related, if at all.

I thought it was all sinking in, but as I look at them more than fifty years later, I am alarmed to discover how few of their names I can still remember, and even less how they were related to me. Some families are huge, and even though I was an only child, I was in one of those huge families.

Now I am so much older, many of those people in the photos are long dead. I have become the oldest male member of that extended family, and many of my younger relatives are no doubt looking at photos that include me, and wondering who I am.

It strikes me that not that much has changed.

33 thoughts on “More Sunday stuff: Family

  1. Mr O’s family is full of feuds so I have never met a fair new of them. I have contact with some of my mum’s family, mostly through WhatsApp groups and because she lives with and works for them. My brother and I are my dad’s only living family. He is an only child and his mum was an only child. His dad had two sisters and apparently there are some cousins somewhere in New Zealand… who knows?

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  2. My Uncle was the glue until his recent death, he managed to organise a family get together not too many years ago and there where well over a hundred of us packed into the same hotel:)
    I’m not sure who will take over.
    Odd isn’t it, that the people who’s memory is starting the fial them are the people who have to remember most 🙂

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  3. Having lived abroad for many years, when my father died, I saw some of my relatives for the first time in years, and although I remembered them, I hadn’t actually met some of the younger ones. Every time there is a chat about people with my mother or some of my older relatives, there are many people I don’t know, and considering I have never been married and don’t have any close family other than my mother, I wonder if I’ll feature in many pictures or memories. But that’s fine. Have a fabulous week!

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    1. I suppose the day will come when we are all forgotten, and pass into history, Olga. But all we can do is try to keep those family connections alive for now.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. My mom passed about a year ago, and I find myself thinking a lot more about family too, Pete. I think my parents would be proud of their four boys; we’ve all done well in our careers, but more importantly, we grew up to be decent people. I’ve never been hung up with age before, but since I turned sixty this year, I find myself thinking more about the kind of legacy I hope to leave for my son.

    Trying to keep track of all the relatives, especially the ones we rarely see, is a challenge. I like to look back at class pictures of my thirty-one years in the classroom. Some kids are still fresh in my mind, and others I can hardly recall at all.

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    1. Thanks, Pete. I am sure that much of this is age-related. I was always close to most of my family, but when I passed that somehow ‘distinctive’ age of 65, I began to seriously worry about keeping in touch, and trying to make sure everyone ‘knew’ each other, and not just by name. Then when my eldest male relative died in January, and I found myself as the ‘senior male’, I somehow knew that it was up to me to try to keep those connections alive, as best as I can.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This post is so relatable to me. My Grandma and Grandpa on my mother’s side had 5 children and I lost count on how many aunts and uncles I have on my father’s side. I sometimes think that that the families that I was born into are trying to repopulate the earth with how many offspring there are.

    My parents generation seemed to copy their parents in the act of having more than 3 children each. I myself am the oldest out of 7 boys. It’s so crazy! Half the time I go to a family event, which is basically never, I’m constantly asking who is who.

    There are just some things about the human condition that don’t ever change with time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I inherited many photos when my mother died, most having annotations. However, one woman was a complete mystery. Then another genealogist posted the same photo with a name and date. What serendipity.

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  7. I recently documented my grandfather’s aunts, cousins and children of cousins (for medical-genetic reasons). There were 120 of them just on his mother’s side of the family. Many people today would have less than 20.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is another old saying….”after 3 days fish and family start stinking”…..and that is most of my family….but as long as daughter and family are around then mine is just great….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Both the first and current Mr.Fraggles have extensive families, I only ever had Mum really as everyone else died before I was 8! In my 1st marriage it used to annoy me to have to go to all the family gatherings and not know what the hell anyone was talking about – big families tend to reminisce when they get together. I would feel ‘left out’. Nowadays I don’t give a monkeys and take photos of everyone instead. 😊

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