I’ve been talking with people recently about the gypsies who are apparently in my family tree. In fact, they’re not actually in the family tree. We don’t know anything about them except that they were on my Nanny’s side of the family. She spoke of them to aunties but no-one else. They are, it seems, assiduously ‘forgotten’ and carefully overlooked by my folk.
On Saturday night, attending a family gathering, I found myself surrounded by those same folk. We celebrate all familial milestones with a gathering. Births, christenings, graduations, weddings, birthdays, and so forth. We’ve even begun slipping in the odd ‘Christmas in July’ party, just because we can.
Saturday was my cousin’s twenty-first birthday. It was a frigid night that had us all speaking with frosted breath as we shivered. But then the coal in the braziers caught properly and we moved to sit in circles, to chat, laugh and tell stories to each other.
Amid the flickering tea candles and helium balloons, I found myself reassured by the strength of the younger cousins identification with their relatives and family name. They use their surname ‘Bloomer’ as an identifier, a talisman of belonging, a word for self and family and all the good things therein.
Sitting next to a younger cousin, surrounded by her friends, my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and a number of others, I heard a couple of questions being asked of her as to how we all fit. Such age differences and disparate appearances, how could we all be related, the friends wanted to know.
The young cousin took a deep breath and explained, the cousins (first and second), the uncles, aunts, nephews, sisters and so on. She ended by saying “But none of that really matters. We call them all cousin. It’s all family. We’re all the same tribe.” She flipped a hand dismissively as though such a statement were obvious,then she smiled and sipped purple vodka through a straw.
It was then, as we huddled around our fire, shared food and wine, told our stories, tapped our feet to music and explained our clan to outsiders; that I’m sure I heard, from somewhere far in the distance, the forgotten gypsies of our tribe laughing and laughing, at we who think they are gone…