We made it to Salisbury this evening to have our last night on holiday with my cousin Danny and his wife Claire and their kids. Despite only meeting him a handful of times in my life, I was able to slip right in to that warm feeling of family connection. It was only recently that I’ve begun to appreciate how different my concept of family is compared to a lot of people I know. Growing up, my extended family was pretty well strung out across the South Pacific, so we didn’t have ready access to family for birthdays, Christmases, or lazy Sunday afternoons. I would see an aunt, uncle and cousins maybe once a year for a short holiday, so the time we spent together was about packing in as much quality time as possible. I felt a strong familial bond, but I simply didn’t see them often enough to have an understanding of them as people.
I’ve used this lack of interaction as an excuse for not understanding much about my own family history. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started to get a sense of just how interesting my heritage is. My Mum’s father – my Papa – was a sailor, a boxer, a writer, and lived an incredibly interesting life of adventure and accomplishment. My Dad’s father – “Grumps” – was a talented, clever engineer who built his own houses and designed castings for Jaguar in England. They both passed away before I had the chance to know them properly, so I never got the chance to hear their stories first hand. What I know, I’ve pieced together from photos and stories and remembered tales on the odd occasions when we are altogether as a big family, but I’m so hungry to know more.
Being a part of Melissa’s family, in comparison, has been such a vastly different experience. She has grown up with her aunties uncles and grandparents always around, and they get together so often that family history is shared so readily and easily. They have the deep connections of family, as well as the more day-to-day connections of friends that enjoy each other’s company. The proximity of family is amazing for support and understanding, and for knowing herself and her heritage. I know it’s one of the things that Melissa finds hard about being away, but we were lucky enough to stay with some cousins in the UK for her family fix.
I certainly don’t regret having family in far-flung places. It’s all I’ve known, and it makes me fully appreciate the time I do spend with them. I’m going to make the most of every opportunity to learn more about where I’ve come from, because I know the veins of history that make up my heritage are rich and full of interesting stories. Getting to know my past is going to help me understand what makes me the person I am, with all my strengths, weaknesses, quirks and faults, which I think will also help me shape my own future.