The youngest brother of my grandmother died this week, and the funeral was on Friday in Taree. My extended family is pretty large - my grandmother was one of 8 and my grandfather was one of... 11? I haven't been to most of the funerals of that generation, and really can't keep track of my father's cousins. (Except for the one that is the father of the brothers in Tumbleweed, who I am happy to claim association with since they are in a band.)
I decided to go to this funeral because I haven't made it to the last few gatherings. The logistics were fun - Mum was coming up with me, and we both had commitments on Thursday night. (OK, my commitment was to spend a thoroughly enjoyable evening with Mim and Wildly Parenthetical, but I was genuinely committed.) So in our infinite wisdom we decided to take Elissa and drive up on the day. This meant a 5am start for a 5:25am (5mins ahead of schedule!) departure.
There was a comedy of errors, involving failing to take shoes or a stroller for Elissa, grabbing shoes from Vinnies and then having them create inch long blisters all before afternoon tea, but mostly it all went smoothly.
There was a huge turn-out for a man who was 78 when he died. It's lovely to see so many family and friends remembering a long life. My uncle hosted a barbecue in the evening and all but one of my father's siblings was there, along with two of his cousins (not ones I had previously managed to keep track of). At these gatherings, I always hear one story I haven't heard before - possibly because the stories change and get made up as time goes by - and this time I heard a wee bit more about my grandfather's experience at the Fall of Singapore. There were more stories from childhood, as well as updates on everyone's lives now. There was some discussion of genetics and the discovery of a cancer-causing gene in my grandmother's family.
Apart from just enjoying the company of my family, all of these things have affected how I got to where I am, how I'm raising my kids and how the rest of my life might play out. You can't grow up listening to the universal horror stories of Catholic school experienced by my father's generation and not feel some instinctive bias against them, no matter how much you know academically that things have changed. You can't be in a place where generations of your family have lived without feeling a connection to it, even if you know there is no way you could live there again. I couldn't take the boys with me because of the short notice and the fact that it was a weekday, but they'll be at the next gathering.
And I have a desire to create a pictorial family tree, so that I can work out who all these people are, and also so that my kids can. There are some practical issues with this - not least that I don't have an artistic bone in my body and can't work out how to do it - but I might make some attempt nonetheless.