It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in the Half Moon pub in the Sherborne, an ancient town in Dorset, England. I had lunch with old friends – old in both age and longevity of acquaintance – a lifetime – they knew me before I was me. That’s a long time. It was a happy couple of hours but melancholia has seeped in, due in some part I’m sure to the wine consumed with my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Just one small glass but I am not a good lunchtime imbiber.
Parking my hire car, an automatic more suitable to American freeways than English country driving, back at base after lunch I decided to walk up the hill to my cousin’s new abode; a charming old cottage on the edge of a large and ancient estate. Without a dog in tow I need a purpose to walk; I knew he was away so it was the ideal time to drop a thank you note for a lovely evening on Friday through his letterbox. The walk, over a stile and up a bridle path through a grove of curving chestnuts made me realise that pounding the treadmill in Houston does not constitute a state of fitness, was solitary and rather lovely. The sun filtered through the canopy drying patches of the pathway strewn with fallen leaves, slippery to the unwary; as I neared the crest of the hill the trees gave way to fields newly ploughed and ready for autumn planting, offering a pastiche of Englishness seen normally only on postcards sold in the Cotswolds, or other spots popular with tourists.
I am extraordinarily lucky to have had the chance to savour the benefits of an English summer afternoon, and it’s not even raining. I now have a few hours to kill before my next commitment, though that is word that connotes obligation, and nothing this weekend is obligatory. Deepest Dorset draws me every time I come to England. Many of my family, those keepers of memories made before I could keep my own, are resident around this area and since both my parents are now dead there is an added poignancy. As my relations age I realise the importance of continuity, not so much of lineage, but of remembrance. This is brought particularly to the fore due one aunt’s decline into the miasma of Alzheimer’s.
My thoughts lead me to the closeness of my family; though never physically. As I grew I lived in Africa and Asia; some cousins grew in Australia, some in the Caribbean, some in England, some in South America and yet we are all close. As our parents have aged and die, our generation has stepped forward and renewed the familial bonds, compounded by our history of shared experiences snatched over brief interludes spent together in different corners of the world.
Maybe because of the extraordinary nature of our meetings as children, infrequent as they were in far flung parts, we have strong connections. As we age we draw closer still. We believe in family but do not see each other for years at a time, and yet we are all aware of where we all are in the world – still scattered: testaments to a global upbringing.
My wine is drunk. Time now for tea before I spend another evening reminiscing with a much-loved aunt as I recognise distance need not be desperate or disparate – a nomadic life can lead to strong family ties albeit spread globally.
So if you are contemplating a life abroad don’t worry unduly about your family disintegrating as the miles add up along with the airmiles; instead embrace the stories and memories that link you rather than the miles that separate you.