Over the weekend, I took my daughter up to the North of England to meet her relatives. The occasion, alas, was yet another funeral; a favourite uncle of mine, clearly everyone else’s favourite also, because pretty well all my generation turned up, and many of the next.
I should digress a little to fill in some family history – this is my mother’s family; Russian aristocrats who escaped after the Revolution. My Grandmother and her sister brought five children under the age of six out of danger once my (British) Grandfather had died, and with him, their protection from the chaos. An unconfirmed family legend is that my Grandmother’s Grandfather was the Emperor of his day; whatever, they were in the firing line. My Grandmother was given a house in Birmingham by a cousin, and the family lived on the jewellery sewn into the children’s coat hems.
So, many years later… almost all of the family have drifted out of Birmingham and into North Wales and Cheshire, or returned there after their life’s journeys. A common theme was East Africa. Several of my generation were born there, or lived there for many years; I was sent to boarding school in England, and spent half terms with various aunts and uncles in turn. My parents broke the Northern pattern, and settled in sleepy Suffolk when they retired. My children have spent their lives hearing of these mysterious cousins in the North, but had never met any of them – and as my father was an only child, and they have just one cousin through their own father, have no experience of family en masse!
There must have been around 20 of us attending, about half the congregation; and at the wake, at one of my cousins’ farmhouse, we tended to settle in the same rooms. More than once I looked around and realised that everyone in sight was family. It was both comforting and unsettling to be aware that these people know me, as I know them; that we have history together, as well as similar cheekbones… My daughter fitted right in, the family expanding to include her without a ripple, and enjoyed herself. We really ought to get together outside of the major events!
The other thing that occurred to me is that we’ve done pretty well, as a family. The rooms held Professors and directors, company owners and engineers – I’m probably the poorest, currently! Not bad for a bunch of first-and-second-generation immigrants, who hardly spoke a word of English between them when they arrived. Britain has been kind to us; I wish the same fortune to those coming here today.
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