It’s the day before Christmas, and most of my Christmas rushing is completed. On Friday I caught with Donna up for our usual pre-Christmas cocktail and dinner, and as always it was good. Yesterday I met up with my two nephews and niece in the city. We checked out the gingerbread exhibition at the Town Hall and then had lunch.
I’ve just come back from my final grocery shopping. Predictably it was pretty hectic in the supermarket, but reasonably civilised. In a minute I’ll begin my own Christmas celebration – a butterflied chicken I’ve had brining overnight will be cooked up on the barbie, with all the usual trimmings. Just me and Rigby, but that’s fine, I’ll be out and circulating tomorrow.
I’ve had my own small Christmas miracle this morning. I went to check online and found I had a friend request. I’ve been getting a few lately as a bunch of people from work have cottoned onto me. I expected it to be more of the same. Instead, it was a face I didn’t recognise, and though I knew the name – the surname was mine – I didn’t know the person. As always I ummed and aahed, but accepted in the end out of curiosity – maybe he’s a distant really?
I went to message him to inquire, but he got in ahead of me. Before I knew he was claiming to be my cousin.
My first reaction was scepticism. My surname is uncommon, but it’s not unknown. I thought he had probably mistaken me for some other branch. Then it dawned on me: he was right.
I have to go back a bit now and to a pretty sad tale.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told the story of my dad’s family. He had an older sister and younger brother, both of whom died badly of cancer 15-20 years ago. They were all quite different. My aunt adored us, a hard-drinking, hard-smoking spinster who loved books and thinking. My uncle was a gentle, lovely man who hero-worshipped my dad and wanted to be just like him. He was disappointed in that. My father was, and probably still is, highly intelligent and driven. There’s a lot of things I could say and have. Suffice it that he was confident to the point of arrogance, and lacked the ease of my mother. He was strong, and my uncle when it came down to it, was frail in all the wrong ways.
My uncle married twice, the second time around he had three children he adored. He married to be a father – he loved kids, and not from love, and eventually, he parted ways with his wife and children. They ended up in Brisbane, he in the Sunshine Coast, which is where he died. None of his kids attended the funeral.
The eldest was a boy, blonde-haired and playful. In my memory he was a bit of a sook, always running to an indulgent mother. Later I heard about the traps that he had a photographic memory – he had memorised the Brisbane street directory, was inclined to the left and was likely gay. The last time I saw him was before the turn of the century, and the last I think I heard of him was 2003 when my aunt died. This is the cousin who contacted me.
I was as astounded as I ever get, but also unexpectedly pleased. I felt a pang of mild guilt that I had not remembered him, that I forgot him so well that he was not a part of my consciousness. That was my bad, but clearly, it was different for him. We chatted for a bit. He told me he had just graduated from uni (Politics and International Relations), that he had a flair for languages, and he was thinking of working for the fair work commission. I could tell from his profile that he was a good Labor supporter, and discovered in our chat that we have the same footy team. His mum was crook, but both his sisters well, including one who had completed a masters of journalism.
I wanted to ask him what made him seek to friend me? What was the motivation? Was I just one of those names that pop up suggestively, or did he choose to reach out for other reasons?
Afterwards, I felt sad at all the lost years and all he had been deprived. I remember when his father died wondering how his kids would feel grown up never having had the opportunity to say goodbye. He, they, grew up completely separately from us, like a completely different family. That was by choice – his mum was a strange, bitter woman who wanted nothing to do with any of us as if we were poison. Now he’s grown up and can make that choice for himself.
For me, it feels strange to find I have another family closely tied by blood that I knew nothing of really.
We said we’d keep in contact, and I hope that’s true. I want to do right by him, even that means just being here.