Lunch yesterday was as good as I could have hoped to be. The food was good, the weather fine, and everyone happy.

Late in the afternoon we piled into the car to go to dinner at my Aunt’s, like so many previous Christmas days.

We found a house buzzing with activity. There were kids everywhere, the children of my three cousins, as well as parents and grandparents, and plates piled high with food – cold cuts and salad, roast chicken and hot gravy. And booze, naturally.

For many years the Christmas Day routine was either lunch at my mum’s, or my aunts, taking turns on alternate years. It was always fun because I’m very fond of my cousins, and because that’s what we did. It was familiar, comfortable, heartwarming.

Then one year it was dropped. I understand why. Mum had re-married and inherited another family. For many years she would Christmas with them on Boxing Day, which they agitated against. And so one year they were swapped in, and my aunt, uncle and cousins were off the schedule.

For me this was very unfortunate. I understood the politics and was sympathetic to it, but was peeved that I wasn’t consulted. It was not nearly as much fun, and something was lost.

With mum gone we have but tenuous links with all of them now. Till yesterday I’d not seen any of them since mum’s funeral. I’m Facebook friends with one of my cousins, and I’ve spoken to my aunt or uncle 2-3 times since. There was never any guarantee that we would not fade from view.

I had a great time last night. Part of it was nostalgia. It was all so familiar. They have lived in that house 41 years and I’ve been there a hundred odd times (in actual fact they have sold now and move out in February). I arrive and everyone is so friendly affable, and in no time old conversations are taken up, familiar good natured gibes are sent my way, to which I respond in the customary way.

They’re all good people (and have great kids). They’re unpretentious souls who get on with their life. I want to use  the word ‘simple’, but am afraid it will be taken the wrong way. It’s the essence of it though I think. I’m sure they have their dramas and issues, but from the outside they seem content with the simple lives they have built for themselves. They laugh together and speak with that easy intimacy that comes from trust and familiarity. They love honestly, and treat with you directly.

This is always something that strikes me whenever I meet with them as an adult. The fact is, for a number of reasons, we – my family – has always been different.

My sister and I spoke about that last night on the drive home. My aunt is my mum’s younger sister, and grew up idolising her. Mum was extrovert and glamorous, but also highly strung. My aunt reserved, modest, and placid. My uncle is a genial, unaffected character who was a printer all his life, and perfectly happy with that. My father was the ambitious and assertive businessman always confidently striving for more. My cousins grew up in a much different environment to my sister and I.

From  my mother we absorbed the sense of presence and appearance, and the social graces – me more so than my sister. From dad we took without realising it that restless sense of ambition. Even as a kid I was aware of the differences between my branch of the family and theirs. We were more glamorous, our lives more exciting, we had more money, and went to better schools. We had dramas though too, downs as well as ups. We lived a vivid lifestyle, we travelled while they lived in the one house 41 years. We had adventures while they were happy is small, but authentic ways. Our life and ways would be foreign to their way of living and conception. Without doubt we had much the more complex life.

I can’t help but wonder at the relative merits of either way. I come away mostly envious of them, at the same time unwilling to relinquish too much of how I live. I enjoy the peaks, but find myself wistful of their happy stability. I tend to say that you are what you are and there’s no point in trying to be something that you’re not – but how much of who I am today was formed by the environment I grew up in? Had my cousin and I been swapped back then would I be happier now?

None of that happened and I am who I am. Nothing much will change now, but perhaps I can learn something from their simplicity. I come away from meeting them again much warmed by the contact. They’re lovely people I hope to keep in my life.

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