cousins

My sisters Tracy and Barbara, back row from left, cousins David, Lucy and Von. I am flanked in the front row by Clare and Fran. Unfortunately my brother Gary missed the picture.

BRIGHTON, England — I have a terrible memory for things that happened to me as a child. I am always amazed when people say, “Oh, I remember when I was six, I went to the Paris opera house with my granny,” or “When I was a fetus I remember listening to Led Zeppelin with my mother.” There are a lot of things that I sort of remember, but I often not sure if it’s a real memory or if it is just a memory prompted by family stories.

However, there is one lingering memory that I was sure was real. It involved a family trip to Wales with my father’s twin brother’s family. During a recent trip to Brighton I was able to make a reunion of the two families. My father’s twin brother, John, died many years ago, and I hadn’t seen most of my first cousins in more than 20 years — living on a different continent will do that.

I was looking forward to seeing everybody again, I thought mainly because it was nice for my dad to have everyone together. It turned out, I was there for me. I arrived at Fran’s house and the party was in full swing, the afternoon sun meant that the house was open and the garden was bustling. My brother, Gary, was grilling burgers, kids were in the small pool, and a glass of wine was in my hand before I knew it.

I didn’t know when I would see everyone again and I made sure, with my OCD precision, to grab each of my cousins for a few minutes of one-on-one time. Fran was a bundle of great energy, Vonny (sorry, she’s just Von, short for Yvonne, now. Old habits die hard) and I talked art (did I know she went to art college as well?). David and Lucy were a lot younger than me and it was great to sit and talk with them. Clare, who is only six months younger than me and whom I remember the most, showed up late and the gang was all together.

mini
A Mini similar to this transported my family, — four adults and nine children —  252 miles to Wales in 1969.

Just for grins, I said, “Didn’t we all go on holiday together in one car?” Nesta, their mother, looked over her glasses and said, “Yes, Wales.” I was right. What I didn’t remember was that it was a mini. That’s right, what Americans call a mini Cooper. Like the ones in “The Italian Job” — the Michael Caine version, not like the ones today.

My father thinks it was 1969, so I was 10. What I remember most was that there were nine of us in the car — and John’s golf clubs, Nesta said — traveling 252 miles. Dad and John split the driving and I remember sitting on a pillow that was on top of the hand brake between the front seats. Mum and Nesta were in the back, with two small kids crammed between them, presumably my sisters Barbara and Clare, and they had Von and my brother Gary on their laps. This being 1969, there wasn’t a seatbelt anywhere to be found, let alone airbags.

minigraphic

Clare had a faint memory of it, but the others were amazed that the trip existed. Mum, Dad and Nesta laughed at the memory of it.

I was happy that it actually was a real memory. I have no recollection of the holiday, but being perched on a pillow between my dad and John as the car trundled down the road sticks in my mind.

The reunion was more than I thought it would be. It was a chance to travel back in time to when we were young, when our parents didn’t care about our welfare (kidding) and the world was a much more innocent, and safer place.

Here’s to next year.

coughlans
My father’s and his twin brother John’s extended family.

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