I come from a pretty big and tight-knit family. I say tight, despite the fact that this past weekend I saw some of my cousins for the first time in 23 years! For you to fully appreciate how a family who has spent more years apart than together can be so close, I would need to start at the beginning.
My gran, Valery had four children, my mom Susan being eldest of the lot. My uncle David came second, followed by my aunt Linda and their baby brother, Peter. They all grew up in Durban where they got up to a considerable amount of
shit nonsense throughout there somewhat wild upbringing. My gran was the kind of mother who let her children be children. (Or preferred to turn a blind eye out of fear of having a heart-attack I’m not sure)) They were always getting up to no good and whatever they were instigating usually involved them doing something they shouldn’t. From go-carting in underground water drains to pranking neighbours to smoking weed under the house, they were known to ruffle a feather or two in their day.
As they all went on to have their own children (yup that’s us!), we became well-accustomed to our many holidays spent in Durban hanging out with our cousins and hearing all about our parent’s childhood. My brother and I were the first grandchildren in the family and over the course of 16 years more and more cousins were added to the mix- four boy cousins from my mom’s brother David, two girl cousins from my uncle Peter and two girls and boy from my aunt Linda. (Jordy only came later when Tony and Linda moved to India in 1991 with Asha and Zoe who were 1 and 3 at the time)
I can remember those holidays to Natal as though it were yesterday. The packing the car the night before to make sure we were ready for the 6 hour drive from Johannesburg where we were living at the time. Arriving at my grandparent’s house and barely waiting five seconds before the boy cousins would all arrive. We spent our days in the pool, playing in the park, walking to the cafe to buy sweets, watching cartoons and occasionally making a day mission to the beach or to the beach front. We just loved being at granny and granddad’s house the most, so much so that when my brother was little he thought that Durban was their house in Woodlands. I think we all kind of shared the same sentiment after that, our happiest moments were spent wondering around their house getting up to our own kind of mischief. (Clearly the apples didn’t fall far from the trees!)
We visited India many times too to visit Linda and Tony and my cousins Asha, Zoe and Jordan. Our first visit was when I was about 11 years old. Linda had just given birth to Jordy and we arrived in Mussoorie by taxi where we were greeted by a fresh, just out-of-the-oven babe who was having his first birth. Over the years I returned to India 6 times and each time the goodbyes got harder. I think as I got older I began to understand more of what we were really missing out on with an ocean between us. My relationship with Linda has become one of my most special and we have shared many conversations about life and relationships and in my late 20’s, my strong desire to become a mother. Every visit was cherished and every trip they made to SA was savoured.
A week before my 13 birthday my Grandad died. I remember that so clearly. My mom, brother and I went down to Durban to say our goodbyes. I had just had my wisdom teeth out and was swollen and bruised from the surgery. I walked towards the hospital bed where my granddad lay and he took one look at me and said “What happened to you my darling? Did someone beat you up? Do I need to break someone’s legs?” I hated seeing him like that. My grandad who just a week before was up on the roof of his house fixing something. My granddad who was the picture of health, who ate bran for breakfast his whole life and didn’t have an ounce of fat on his lean body. My grandad who would spend hours in his music room and making things with wood from scratch. My grandad who would play me his jazz records while I played with his calculator and ate mints from his stained glass jar on his desk.
If my memory serves me correctly, it was only a few short years after that that my uncle David and his boys left for New Zealand and we had moved to Cape Town. Our family was now spread out all over the world and holidays to Durban were just never quite the same. We obviously tried to all stay in touch but it could never live up to the closeness we had come to know.
My gran went on to remarry, not once but twice! She is a true example of never going up on love. A true example of always having something to give, of never running out of love. She has sadly out-lived three husbands who she adored and was dedicated to for most of her life. (And if that my dear friends is not enough, she seems to have found companionship again with another special “friend” who lives with her in her old age home. I mean can someone get this woman a Bells??)
As we have grown up we have all tried our best to bet here for the big momentous occasions like weddings and such, but as young working adults it was never always easy in those days starting out. And of course with our own children now aded to the mix, travelling internationally is a luxury we haven’t always been able to afford.
But this past weekend we were all reunited for the first time in 23 years for my beautiful gran’s 85th birthday in Pietermaritzburg. And despite the many years between us all it was just as it’s always been. There is still such an undeniable and tangible bond between us all. My gran, the beautiful matriarch of the family who wore a smile on her face for 3 days straight, who looked the picture of serenity, who brought us all together to celebrate her beautiful life. It was a weekend full of wonderful celebrations, deep conversations, SO much laughter and many special moments to cary us through the next season apart. Hopefully we won’t be waiting another 23 years to reunite! And hopefully the four cousins who weren’t able to be there (Ash, Zozo, Jordy and Kendy you were soooooooo missed!) will complete the puzzle!
I walked away feeling freshly grateful for this wonderful thing called life and especially grateful for the wonderful family I get to call my own.
To my gran who has never stopped enjoying life and embracing what she’s been given, Happy Birthday you legend woman!