Memoir week 2 Family
“I thought”, said my aunt, “you would have a difficult time when you went to Canada. “In order to have a family you would have to make your own.” And this is what I had done. I was visiting her and the other relatives on one of my excursions taken with one of my children so they could meet their cousins. I’d always been acutely aware of the lack of a family and wanted to give them as many relatives as I could, even long distance ones.
I arrived in Canada at the age of six and a half leaving behind my aunt and uncle and their children, by then more like siblings than cousins to me, and from that time on, and really for the rest of my life, loneliness became my constant and closest, if unwanted, companion. I made friends at school but my best friend of the time would always be best friends with someone else, I’d be the dispensable part of a threesome.
For the first couple of years the woman who brought me to Canada, later joined by her teenaged daughter, was part of our household. She was quite unkind to me, I suppose nowadays one would say I was bullied by her, but at the time as a young child I was simply unhappy. Later I understood better that she, too, was unhappy. She eventually left. My father had become good friends with a woman while he was still in Africa and they returned to the United Kingdom together. She it was who looked after me those happy months in the Channel Islands. Now she came to visit us in Canada. The following year she and my father met in Bermuda and got married, so I had a stepmother.
My stepmother also had a fairly small family, but they were close and she kept in touch with them, and they welcomed my father and me into the family. But, once again, these people all lived so far away we hardly ever met. Now that most of the older generation has died I keep in touch with only a couple of her Irish cousins, so distant they were hardly related even to her and of course not to me at all!
The first time I visited my English relatives I was about nineteen. My grandfather had for some reason become anxious to see me and had sent money for my air fare. My grandmother had died years earlier and he’d been quite promptly snapped up by a spinster schoolteacher who must have seen him as a good way to attain the status of a married woman.
After a day or two with the cousins I spent most of the rest of my precious three weeks being entertained by these two elderly people as well as a raft of second cousins and first cousins once removed, as well as my uncle, my mother’s brother, and his family. But it was the cousins who lived hundreds of miles to the south whom I craved to spend more time with, so the plans for my last few days were changed and I was sent back to them. While there I had a dream that I was in a house where I discovered a huge wing I’d not known existed, and I found treasure hidden under the front steps. I understood right away that this house represented family, a far larger family than I had ever known.
The last day I spent with them I have never forgotten. It was a day which seemed to last forever, as though in some way I was psychologically making up for all those years, thirteen formative years, when I had been in exile.
Since then I have made a family. Recently this seemed to become complete with the birth of a granddaughter, although, continuing the pattern of my life, this child lives a thousand miles away….
I can relate to your Memoir Assignment Part II, as well as your first one. During the years we lived in Japan, around Christmas times when parcels started arriving, we’d talk about our aunts and uncles and cousins “back home” and I would wonder if I would ever meet them. Over the years I became very close to my Montreal aunt and cousins, but not the ones on my mother’s side of the family who were scattered across the country. When we moved my mother into our home here in Dartmouth, I got in touch with the eldest daughter (Cath) of my mom’s youngest sister, who lives in Vancouver. When Cath replied, she wrote “Dear half-cousin”, and I realized, then, that all my relatives here would have thought of me as being only “half” or part-family. So I have seven “half-cousins” on my dad’s side (His mother died of childbirth the day after he was born and his father remarried) and I have ten half-cousins on my mother’s side. (Her mother died of TB when she was four, and her dad remarried.) A long story, but I must say, when I realized that we were only half-cousins, I felt rather bereft. My siblings, nieces, nephews and great-nieces/nephews are all in Ontario, so my only family here consists of Ken, Chris and Ashley and two “grand-dogs”. And I’m so grateful I have them nearby!
Well, that sent me down a rabbit hole, trying to find out what a half-cousin was and how it differed from a step-cousin. I have no half cousins, but I do have a bunch of step-cousins. Half cousins share one grandparent, (full cousins two). Step-cousins are not related by blood. My stepmother’s family were always very welcoming of me although I now only keep in touch with a couple of her cousins, such distant cousins they are hardly related even to her. I guess if my stepmother and my father had ever had a child, that would have been a half-sibling to me and a half-cousin to my stepmother’s nieces and nephew? If she had come into my family with a child of her own, that would have been a step-sibling to me and a full cousin to her brother’s children? There, time to come out of the rabbit hole!
I think you may remember Lou Gass from the time she spent in Admiralty Place and YGS group. I call her my cousin, but we are not blood relatives. Lou’s grandmother was the sister of my mother’s step-mother. My mom always referred to Lou’s father as her cousin, and apparently they were dance partners when they were both at Queen’s U. until she told him she was engaged to my dad, who was attending at U. of T. at the time. Then he dropped her, I guess. Lou attended St. Paul’s Church after she and her husband split up, which is where I met her for the first time since the mid-1960s when our families lived on the outskirts of London, Ontario. I introduced Lou to Marcia when Marcia first moved into Admiralty Place. Sass is one of my half-cousins. Her mother is one of my father’s two half-sisters, from his father’s remarriage to Catherine Chute of Wolfville.