08 June 2015

Visiting family

In recent years, I have been hesitatingly seeing my family a bit more. I've been living abroad for yonks, if I come back to the Netherlands I tend to be short of time so I have to be selective in who I see, and my family is a bit of an odd one. The family (on my father's side) are all descendants of my grandfather, who came to the Netherlands in the interbellum. This boils down to my dad, his two brothers, their offspring (two generations of it), and the significant others of all of these. And to start with; none of those who remember this grandfather liked him. He wasn't the most popular of fathers. And in the later generations there is some trouble too. I have spent a lot of the time since leaving home trying to find a place for myself in the world on  my own, but now I'm starting to look back. Maybe because I'm turning into an old fart; maybe because I'm now so certain in myself I can take the trouble with the warmth. And maybe my sister telling me off helped too.

We had had two Christmas dinners with cousins in the past years, and this year I intended to add my sister's birthday to that, and the annual family day. And this year, these would be really close together. Two birds with one stone! I initially hesitated a bit; I would have the big Welshexam immediately afterwards, and the Netherlands aren't the best place to prepare, but one needs to have one's priorities straight. I would just have to make do with the preparation I managed to get beforehand! So I booked tickets.

After applying for the passport I went, as I tend to do, to my mum. She is the odd one out in this story; I have been keeping in touch with her a lot more than with any of my other relatives. She doesn't travel anymore, so if Muhamad doesn't come to the mountain, the mountain comes to Muhamad. I tend to dedicate a day to her alone, and then use her place as a base camp for my travels. That way I spread the visit out a bit; I am always keen to see her soon, but it's nice to later be able to keep her updated on my trip as it unfolds as well. 

The city moat near where my mother lives. It even featured a swimming roe deer during my stay!

She's not been excessively mobile for years now, but this time, for the first time, she suddenly also struggled to hear me, and forgot things. That's new, and I was here only some five months ago! Oh dear. And now with first the student fieldwork looming, and then the cruise, and then hopefully a holiday, I won't be back any time soon.

Next up (familywise) was my dad and stepmum. I would travel with them to the family day in the deep south (one of my uncles lives as good as in Belgium), and we'd have to leave early, so I wanted to get there the day before. When I came in they immediately pulled open the booze cupboard. I shocked them by indicating I wanted a cup of tea and then bed. That youth of today! doesn't know how to have a good time.

The next morning we set off. We would go kayakking on the river Meuse. The day before my father had said "I trust you did tell your uncle you'd be coming?"; that startled me a bit. Eh, well, eh, no! Forgot. Would there be enough vessels? In the morning my father phoned his brother and fortunately this wouldn't be a problem. And my forgetfulness resulted in a nice surprise.

We drove down. And I really mean "we"! My father invited me to drive, in spite of me now being a solid left-driver. I accepted that challenge. An except for me sometimes vaguely fondling the left door instead of grasping the (for me) strangely placed gear stick all went well. And in the old days I figured driving to Belgium was far, but eight years abroad have changed my idea of distance.

We were greeted by my uncle Karel and his wife. They hadn't changed a thing since I last saw them. And later the other brother, Dick, arrived with his girlfriend, and four out of the six of the lower generation. And then three significant others and six children. And a dog. Not complete, but I don't think that will ever happen; this was a good crowd! And it was good to see everybody. Three people I had never met; several were an enormous amount smaller the last time I'd seen them.

We had a chat and some food, and then we went kayakwards. The weather looked a bit menacing! Oh dear. It took a while to distribute everybody over the various vessels; I ended up in a double kayak with my cousin. She didn't trust the weather, and suggested we race to the drop-off point, and hasten to the pub. Aye aye, cap'n! We were off. But not fast enough; soon it started to rain. And not a little bit; it rained cats and dogs. It was such a torrent it was hilarious. And when we thought it was getting better it got worse again. When finally the clouds vanished we saw signs of being near the end. We just drifted along for a bit, enjoying this much improved weather. It was a nice opportunity for some quiet talk. Such a big gathering of people doesn't offer much of that! Still nattering we saw we were actually there; we just only recognised it looking back. We landed.

Getting sorted

Rivalry with my sister and her younger son

My cousin Femke, my captain, enjoying the lovely weather

It's sunny again, and the raft arrives

Soon the other kayaks and canoes appeared too. But we had a raft too! That would take a while. They had a heavy vessel which also suffered from the upstream-heading winds. When it appeared many were glad to be able to go to Karel's comfortable house again.

We sang for my sister who would have her birthday two days later, and had cake and dinner. It was all very snug! But it was a long drive back, and the youngest kid was only four years old, so it was time to leave again. Next year I'll try to be there again!

Celebrating my sister

That night I went back to my mother. I had some quiet time until it was time to head to my sister's house for her birthday party. She had told me the only people I'd know there were our and her husband's parents, but when I approached the house I saw a much younger, but still familiar face. One of my sister's old school friends! I hadn't seen her in almost twenty years, but she was still exactly the same. That was a nice surprise! And later all sorts of other people arrived, but my sister had sent me a who's who so I could keep track of all these new faces. It was nice! Maybe next year again, as well? Depending a bit on how the two events are timed!

I stayed over. This involved finding a rather top-heavy pink horse balloon on my bed; the perks of borrowing your niece's bed. The next morning I had to pick up the passport, rather early. When I got up only Abe was awake; I rustled up some breakfast, and asked Abe to open the back door for me. Shortly before it was time to leave the adults appeared too. I gave their sleepy shapes a hug and off I was.

The last chapter was for my mother again! We went cheese-buying, and even bought a TV. My mother is turning digital. And we sat in the sun with a glass of beer or wine and some of her neighbours. Very nice! Hopefully I'll be back in September!

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