We are driving now to London. Kids are asleep and I’m sitting up front listening to Regina Spektor and Radiohead with Guy. It’s a beautiful day, sun is shining, wellies are off, socks are off, shorts are back on and summer has returned to our big trip.
We have just farewelled my cousins Nicole, Sam, Annabelle and Isaac in Leeds so I’m feeling that forlorn ‘pull away’ from my family. We say lots of goodbyes on this trip. There have been lots of longer embraces, final eye-to-eye knowings that signal we don’t know when we will meet again, that the world is ever so big and that the future is unknown. But saying goodbye to family sits in a different pocket of my heart. My family is so far flung spread. We are like a big old tree whose branches have reached out so far wide in the forest that often they never touch again, sow seeds elsewhere and lose their leaves at different times of the year. But our roots are strong.
My mother’s paternal family all come from Poland and most died in the Holocaust. Three siblings survived, my grandfather Peter (Pinchas), my great aunt Ida and my great aunt Suzie (Zosha). After the war each made their home on a different continent – my grandfather in Australia, Ida to Canada and Suzie first to Palestine and then to New York. Many reasons for these disparate moves – shorter line to Australia and farthest away from Germany, Zionism, work opportunities, acceptance. But the reality was that three siblings who had lost all else, lived and loved apart and grew families apart. My mum often lamented how she never had cousins near her growing up and I understood this woe but took it for granted growing up in very close contact with my cousins in Melbourne until we moved to Sydney when I was 18. Then I started to understand that feeling of the ‘pull away’.
Once an adult I endeavoured to see and meet and spend time with my family all over the world. I did this mostly in my 20s while living in New York with Suzie’s family and then traveling from there to Montreal and London to meet and stay with Ida’s family. It was great. I hung out with my contemporaries – us all being third cousins and also my mum’s first cousins – my second cousins. And of course my great aunts whose voices and distinct European/American accents I can still hear in my heart of hearts. I learnt more about the family history, noticed the similarities in our ways and traditions, and basically just felt connected and accepted under this bigger branch of our family tree.
When I told Guy and Noa and Lina that we were going to Leeds to meet my cousin Nicole (and their cousin) Noa asked how we are related. It took a little explaining but we got there. Guy thinks it’s a bit strange to call my third cousins my cousins or even be in touch with them. I met his third cousin at his father’s shiva and they live not far from Guy’s family in Israel. She told me wonderful stories about Aaron when he was in his 20s, how much she loved his mother Genia. Guy never sees these cousins, not even on high holidays, nor has he ever mentioned them to me. It’s so distant to him. And certainly not regarded in the same way.
So what is it that I value? Why do I make the effort to cross oceans, email family news and updates, share photos, track them down on Facebook, send gifts when a new baby is born (I try!), Skype on the odd occasion? What is the pull towards my family? What do I get from these interactions?
I just spent three days with Nicole and her little family and I loved it all. Loved the way our kids banded together within moments of meeting. Loved sharing new bits of information about our histories, filling in the borderless puzzle that is a post war family. Loved imagining Ida and Pinchas watching over us all from somewhere in the universe, their smiles, their utter joy and nachas. Loved observing all of us at the kitchen table together, eating, chatting, someone running after one child while another fed another. Loved gallivanting around Leeds and its outskirts on trains and buses, on foot and in wellies, the kids skipping and balancing on fences. Mostly though, I just loved the moments where I felt so comfortable in everyone’s company.
There is something about family. I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate here or anywhere for that matter. It’s not even a ‘like’ thing – we don’t have to like the same things, share the same politics, live similar lifestyles, practice the same religion, even know each other that well or like each other all that much. There is a link between us – it’s deep and cellular and messy and moving and continuous and pumping. It’s a mutual recognition. It’s ancient.
Funnily enough, a year ago today I wrote my first four lines of poetry to my friend Ella for our creative promise to each other to write _Fourlines_ every Sunday. And here is what I wrote. Maybe this explains it all.
Bloodlines quantum leaping
Memory cells awake from sleeping
Oceans, deserts, rivers so wide
The narrow, winding roots of the family tree.