There’s No Escaping: Family Is as Family Does

As family reunions go, the event I attended in Ontario’s Georgian Bay district on a recent weekend was a fairly small-scale affair. At its peak, a mere 24 people were in attendance.

Officially, it wasn’t really a reunion, just a gathering in Canada’s quintessential cottage country to mark my oldest brother’s 80th birthday.

Judging by the comments I receive, I realize that many regular readers of this column have already surpassed that mark by several years, maybe even a decade or more.

If not, they have siblings, spouses, or friends in the top echelons of Geezerhood.

Yet, even at the relatively advanced age of 74, I found myself awestruck by the fact that someone I grew up with has reached the positively ancient age of 80.

There were only three generations present for the occasion. A fourth is due to make its debut in a few weeks’ time. Apart from the birthday boy and his wife, I was the sole representative of the “older” generation.

What made this different from other family reunions I’ve attended was that, as a non-descendent of the reigning clan patriarch and matriarch, I really didn’t belong there. There were common genes, sure, but no direct lineage.

Still, surrounded by nieces and great-nieces, nephews and great-nephews, rather than by siblings and cousins, I felt completely at home.

Even among those I had never met previously, there were enough similarities in mannerisms, facial features, speaking and laughing patterns, that I frequently had to remind myself that this was my brother’s clan, not my parents’ or grandparents’.

If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine being surrounded by my other brother’s offspring, or my sister’s. Or even my own children and grandchildren.

Is it nature or nurture that makes relatives prepare food the same way, wash dishes the same way, exhibit the same sense of humour, engage in the same teasing banter, hold the same conversations, and enjoy the same games?

Why does a 6-year-old great-niece dog paddling around the dock bring to mind long, happy days of swimming with my older sister at a different, but similar, cottage almost 70 years ago?

Why does an 11-year-old playing cribbage with his old man suddenly remind me of so many happy matches with my own father, or between my father and his in their day?

And why do cousins who may see each other only once a year, or even less, get up to the same harmless mischief, as if they were long-time and regular co-conspirators?

I don’t expect to unravel these mysteries anytime soon, but I’m happy to observe them in action from time to time.

What’s that old maxim about the relative viscosity of blood versus water?

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