Since my father's death in 2000, I have been guilty of neglecting his family - his brothers, sister, nephews and nieces.
Thus I was really looking forward to the family get-together, arranged to take place at my cousin's place late yesterday afternoon.
It was an easy-going affair - upon our arrival my cousin had laid the table with various cakes - with the iced cupcakes being a firm favourite with the children (endearing my cool cousin to them forever as the 'cool aunty', who allows them to feed on cupcakes just before supper time).
We sent out for take-aways, allowing us all the time to catch up on months passed and important moments missed (instead of having to fuss about in the kitchen preparing meals - a brilliant idea!). We chatted about our kids, husbands, ourselves. We chatted incessantly - compressing months of information about ourselves and our lives into a few hours. Determined to fill every gap in the other's consciousness with information about our lives we absolutely had to share, and to glean as much information about each others' comings and goings - in the limited available time. Just imagine the incessant raucous babbling of over-excited voices - delighted to be in each others' company. Feeling at home amongst people whom most of us have known since birth, with whom most of us had grown up - the sum of whom defined us.
I learned about one multi-talented cousin's hairdressing business, the health concerns of another's daughter. About one amazing cousin-in-law's approach to dealing with grief after suffering the most intense loss imaginable. That another's son (who I still see as a little boy) is now coaching soccer. I observed what an amazing mommy one cousin was - she spent every second doting lovingly on her little boy.
I learned that one cousin reads this blog after she's put her kids to bed for the night (Yikes!)
I stood by the stove learning the correct viscosity of the syrup used to glaze doughnuts and koeksisters. I learned that it cannot be measured - it has to be felt. Yes, my skilled cousin, poured some syrup onto my inept fingers, making me feel the correct viscosity. I suppose that mastering this art comes with practise.
Standing by the stove waiting for water and sugar to turn to syrup, I laughed heartily as two of my physically well-endowed cousins told how they use their bras to store important notes and other items they might need to access quickly. One told of her son's horror as she pulled a cell phone out of her bra and handed it to him to use. Oooh, I was so jealous - I have to use a handbag.
I had the most enlightening discussion with my aunt. This woman, who uses her self-deprecating humour to make others laugh, amazes and inspires me with her wisdom. We spoke about finding peace and contentment in times of adversity. She spoke about loving one's kids and loving one's daughters and sons- in-law as if they are one's own. This made me realise that I might have to slightly amend the terms of the agreement I'd reached with Shakeel (13) when he was about six years old - that he'd never marry or, if he did, his wife would sleep by our feet while he lay in the arms of his adoring mommy. I left that discussion with much to ponder and contemplate.
I had an interesting discussion with my aunt about my family tree. We were told about about one of our ancestors, who had been a bit snooty (and possibly not very popular, as a result), but who had married the most delightful man. So while most of the family takes after the down-to-earth father figure, there have been a few who have inherited the snootiness of the female ancestor. At this point, not only did eyes fall on me, but some of my more outspoken cousins actually pointed their fingers at me and said, ''Yes, this one - she's really stuck-up''. At which point I had to set the record straight, saying that my shyness and social awkwardness has often been misconstrued as aloofness.
I learned about how my paternal grandfather's mother, who had been a young Afrikaaner girl from the then South-West Africa, had left her family to marry my Cape Malay great-grandfather. And how, a few years later, her brother had come to instruct her to ''los die goed'' (leave these things) - referring to her husband and kids - and to return home to claim her share in their ostrich farm and the rest of their estate. When she refused, she was disowned. I was saddened at what must have been an agonizing situation for my poor great-grandmother - being rejected by one's family because of the race of one's spouse and kids. On the other hand, I was amazed that my dad had cousins in Namibia whom he had never even met.
I was sad when it was time to leave. But not as sad as Tharaa (10) was, as they had just started with the karaoke (and she just loves singing). She made me promise that we'd return to the fun Aunty's house soon.
Being with my family has made me realise how I've lost touch with who I am and where I've come from. And how serious my life has become. Last night I, once again, experienced unbridled, carefree and unrestrained laughter.