View from the Pew
BY JAKE THACKRAY FAMILY. WHAT DO you make of yours? Most of the time I know what to make of mine and so do they and there is nowhere else we would all rather be than in it.
But there are some funny days.
Some years back I was mooching about in my grandmother's back scullery with a salmon sandwich and a glass of sherry. Can't remember what the family function was but I know I had my best suit on. So it was an important family gathering. Could have been a birth, a birthday, a christening, funeral, engagement, golden anniversary. Knowing my mob it could have been a corning out of Armley Gaol on-ball party. But we were all there and there are a lot of us. We are a kind of tribe. Most of us do not know each other frightfully well but we do know that we are family and we stick together on these solemn occasions and say the prayers and hit the sherry.
There may be distant, musty aunts and half remembered uncles at these do's.
Then there will be nieces, half-brothers of nephews, half-step-sisters, ex-wives, ex-ex-ex-husbands, uterine cousins on the maternal side, great-grand-nephews half removed. A family is a rich thick stew with many ingredients and flavours and not a few lumpy bits.
A twenty-something lady will say to you "Nigel!" (your name is Anthony) "You look so well! This is my partner Ferdinand. After I split with Luigi I was with Humphrey for a couple of years but now he's with Barbara. But we still get to see little Timothy and Jocasta. How is Sarah?" (your wife's name is Louise.)
Do you wonder I was hiding in the back scullery? This is tribal family life. You try to know who everybody else is. Come to that you try
to know who you are.
I got to know who I was when my great-grandmother Catherine came in swinging a bottle of scotch round her head. Catherine knows everybody and loves the family and remembers their names and their lives, even Timothy and Jocasta. We got a couple of glasses and set to work.
"My dear great-grandson let me show you what your mother looked like, my beautiful granddaughter, when she was seventeen. Let me show you what sort of family you come from. By the way, have you got a fag?"
As we drank and smoked she showed me old photos of her son, my grandfather Joseph, who played for Yorkshire for two matches before the war came along and he went off and died in France. She still has his county cap. Then there was Uncle
Bernard who was killed in the pit at Holyland Common and his sister Aunt Elizabeth who went off to the Spanish Civil War as an ambulance driver and was not heard of or found ever again. It was family album time as it often gets round to at these family doo-dahs.
One of my sons wandered in and caught us at it just as. Catherine was showing me a sepia picture from her collection. This showed a young woman with hands on hips giving the camera a luscious smile and with a great decolletage.
"Who's this chick?" said the youth, "ain't she just ace!"
"That is the mother of your father" said my great grandmother.
It was indeed my mummy at seventeen. Those were indeed the wonderful upper slopes of hers I spent my infancy climbing up and working over. Those hands on the naughty hips were Indeed the very same that had smoothed hair and smacked bottom, made dinner and washed up and • put themselves together for a night prayer before stroking her sons to sleep. Those very sensual knees ("Wow!" said the spunky son, "Just look at those benders!") were indeed the very ones that had genuflected and knelt every day for eighty years.
"Funny family, ours," we said going home, "but like it or not we're in it." Actually we like it very much.
"Much the same," mused one of the party, "as being a member of the Church. It is a very funny and puzzling family to be in. But we like it very much." 't