Siblings and other unique visitors
A couple of weeks ago, my sister turned 60. Naturally, her family helped her celebrate one afternoon and evening, in a happy, un-ostentatious way, which quite suits my sister’s calm and loving sense of family. There were quite a few of us, though. I have a good number of siblings: six, in fact; four sisters and two brothers. Given that we are all adults and equipped with all the usual proclivities for sex and, on occasion, procreation, we’ve managed to collect over the years a sizeable tribe of the younger generation, some of whom obviously inherited some of the same proclivities and have themselves produced offspring.
The sister at the centre of the celebration, Micki, is one of the two main Keepers of the Family Photographs (the other being the youngest, Kate. Between them they can produce a frightening collection of photos of alien-looking people that are, apparently, us.) Micki isn’t her real name (and I haven’t changed names to protect the innocent because, to be honest, I couldn’t find one in the family if I tried). Her real name is Mariette, which she prefers, but ever since we were children, she’s been Micki and I can’t break the habit. As with our older sister, Kelly, my parents decided, for reasons of their own, to christen her one thing and call her another. (Kelly, though, much preferred her common name to her true name, cementing herself legally and familiarly as Kelly by deed poll some years ago.) Perhaps my parents were under the belief that if you know a person’s real name you gain some sort of power over them, and so used it only when they wanted the girls to clean their bedroom or feed the dog. Whatever the reason, the notion wore off by the third child (me). I was christened Alan, was called Alan and the dog’s chances of being fed didn’t improve one bit.
For the occasion of her birthday celebration, Micki had put all her photos into albums sorted by a taxonomy of her own devising. These were duly passed around and everyone was asked to fill in the gaps: who’s in the photo, what was the occasion, and to identify an assortment of strange people no one seemed to know, who had obviously just wandered in front of the lens, or were one of those people who roamed the world interposing themselves into photos being taken of famous people.
The horrifying thing was how often the unidentified people turned out to be us. Those people with hair and smooth faces, and without glasses and the 20 pounds that life carelessly leaves on us, like a layer of aged dust on a discarded ornament, were ourselves.
We brothers and sisters have been through a lot together, from even before we left America to find a new life in Australia. My parents had sensibly waited until all seven of us were, by chance, in the same room, then grabbed our hats and coats and whisked us away from Saugus, Massachusetts; first by train across Canada to Vancouver, from thence onboard a small cargo-passenger ship that dipped and lurched across the Pacific for six weeks before marooning us in Sydney.
Since then, like all families, we have had our share of life’s surprises and a few of its predictabilities. Sometimes we got a slice of the pie, sometimes we got the crumbs and sometimes we got our fingers caught int he mangle. There’s been joy and adventure, tragic loss and heartache, partners coming and partners going; a lot of fun, a lot of making do, a lot of struggling and a constant but unobtrusive striving for something I’m not sure that anyone of us could name.
Through everything, we remained close. We remained friends. Even to this day, we need each other and are glad of it. It isn’t often that all seven of us are together at the one time but we were for Micki’s birthday.
My happiness in helping my sister celebrate her milestone was tempered somewhat to find that one of the offspring of the offspring had obviously developed the quite mistaken belief that producing children at a relatively early age was somehow a family tradition and she wasn’t going to let the side down. So, labouring with both child and misapprehension, she produced the first of yet another generation. Which, if my grasp of family is correct, makes me a great-great uncle.
That just won’t do. Even the word ‘uncle’ conjures up in my mind an image of a man of at least middle age; someone with one comparative adjective must be at least to the doddering stage; and someone with two of the same is a creature only encountered by archaeologists. So, I decided to have a stern word with my great-niece, Chrissie, and demand that she not do that to me again. And I determined to speak to her mother – my niece, Juliette – and tell her that having an excess of aunts and uncles – all with an exceedingly mild and temperate nature – was no reason to think she could treat us like this by letting her daughter have one of her own and throwing our ages in our faces. Having done so, I’d pass on the message to all the other nephews and great nephews, nieces and great nieces.
It is no fault of mine but I do, once in a while, have trouble remembering who is whom among the younger family members. I put it down to having spent a great many of the years they were busy being born and growing up, living overseas. The sad fact is that I should get to know them better. Which, as I made my rounds, is what began to happen.
Pick up a newspaper or a magazine, or turn on the television or talk-back radio, or go online and read some blogs, and you will inevitably hear that younger people are not what they used to be. Or rather, what we used to be. I’ve sort of lost track of where we are up to in the alphabet: we’ve moved past X and I’m pretty sure that Y has had its day in the sun, but whatever the letter, many would have us believe that the new crop are less literate and have an attention span just slightly longer than a goldfish’s; that they are narcissistic, material, immature and less concerned with issues than with the shopping mall. In other words, we should feel a bit uncomfortable than we are leaving the world in their hands.
What I found taking the time to talk to the nephews and nieces is that they are a surprising group of people. They are terrific people. I genuinely liked them. And when they work out who I am, they might just like me. Out of all our achievements, they (that includes my own two) are the greatest.
If my nephews and nieces are anything to go by, I think we’re going to leave the world in safer hands than ours. In fact, it’s already in their grasp. Everyone over 40, whether they like it or not, is getting moved to the co-pilot’s seat. These younger people are already creating the spirit of the world they’ll inherit. Which, as far as my nephews and nieces go, is about all they’ll inherit as we haven’t managed to accumulate a lot to leave them. Not that we didn’t think of it, but every time that making money came up, something shiny and bright would catch our eye and we’d get distracted.
Whenever I look at the stats for this site and they tell me I have all these unique visitors, I figure they must be talking about my siblings. Now I realise it must include all those unique nephews and nieces, and the great-nephews and great-nieces – and maybe even the great-great ones. Well, in a couple of years it will.