This post belongs in mid-August. I began writing it early October and I’m finally publishing it in early November. What holds all three dates together are open skies and golden sunshine – beyond that life has been up and down and round the block a few times. Right now, life is good. It’s a good time to write about family.
August was about family: the good, the bad and the ugly. The central focus of this family-filled August spread over about 10 days, mid-month, when the house was given a serious workout as visitors came and went, gathered and divided in an ever-changing family kaleidoscope. Bedrooms were filled with a variety of bodies; showers were in almost constant use; the kitchen saw many a gathering of bleary-eyed morning faces – and later in the day, teams of willing helpers ready to chop, stir and taste as endless chains of meals were produced.
The weather was at its absolute best: brilliant blue skies and warm, fresh sunshine with balmy breezes.
Families and couples came and went, exploring the area. They ran the hills; walked the footpaths; visited beaches and villages – braving the crowds on this most busiest of tourist weekends.
Tangles of people settled here and there – to play with the little ones or to sit with a cool glass in hand and drink in the open spaces.
Groups gathered with morning coffee or evening wine on the new decking. Talk was animated and amusing. Laughter rang out often.
Evenings involved spirited discussion when we were just 6 in number; late night arrivals bumped us up to 11 and attempts at discussion were more challenging. And the party split then, between those trying gamely to follow the Olympics and those willing to wrap up warm and sit gazing into the dark night sky, counting shooting stars as the Perseids passed. Already, though the days were sultry, the nights were chilled.
Our last night together was warmed by good company and memories. I had hoped we would be able to set up long tables outside with dishes and bottles spread along their lengths – and talk into the dark as the stars came out and the owls awoke. Sadly, our local ants chose to swarm just as the boys placed the tables outside for me. In an instant every surface was covered by a squirming black mass. Instead we set up the tables upstairs, thus proving that we can comfortably seat 12 in a sociable arrangement which could easily take a few more when required. The food tasted good indoors or out, and instead of a long lazy evening of wine and chat under darkening skies, we settled in for a riot of ridiculous parlour games: loud voices and laughter and competitive spirits rising to the challenge. Enhanced I suspect, by the spirits that came out of bottles…
Most people left over the course of Monday, and the next day brought more family: fewer in number but every bit as welcome. My sister arrived with her husband and daughter: a whole new set of dynamics and a chance to spend sisterly time talking – an opportunity that hasn’t arisen properly for a number of years.
Their visit was a short one but we packed plenty in. A breezy, blue-skied afternoon of talk and confidences and crisp white wine followed by a memorable, madcap taxi-run to Lerryn for a delicious meal that I didn’t have to cook.
We awoke next day to grey drizzle; so we headed off to the Eden project, squeezed in along with the entire contingent of Cornish tourists, all with the same idea now the weather had turned. A rather nice cream tea in a modern pub in rain-spattered Mevagissey was a nice twist; it was our first visit to this bustling harbour town. The evening meal that night was cooked by me. It was a sad and sorry affair which is probably best left unmentioned. I was tired; I misjudged quantities and much else besides. Wendy, Kevin and Sophie remained kind and caring, warm, funny and endlessly supportive.
There was so much that was good in this hectic spell of comings and goings. How lucky we were with the weather. And not one of our journeying families were delayed by traffic problems in either direction. There was time for talk with people individually as well as lively group chatter. We were able to share our home – still in its makeshift state – with those that we love, and the house worked: what we had envisaged was happening before our eyes.
But there was more happening as well: unseen and less welcome. I suspect I shall always be a naïve and romantic idealist; I shall always want things to be perfect; people to be happy; life to be a succession of sunshine and special days. Of course I’m also a realist; I know this cannot be possible and indeed, it should not be possible. Life must consist of rough and smooth, peaks and troughs, clarity and confusion, and moments when your heart swells with love and pride and gratitude and joy and appreciation alongside moments when your heart hardens with pain or fear, worry or upset, disappointment or disillusionment. But – and here’s where the naïve, romantic, idealist joins forces with the control freak in me – I would like to ring-fence certain times when only good things happen. Not often – just occasionally. And this was one of those times.
I wanted to be able to look back on this family-filled time in our first summer here as a miasma of golden memories. I wanted to be able to write a post bursting with sunlit photographs and pinpricks of joy and love and laughter. I wanted everyone to play their parts in my family kaleidoscope and I wanted the patterns to be harmonious and bright.
Of course, life does not work like that. Families do not work like that – even the best and most wonderful of families. (Yes, I am utterly biased.) That there were other stories running alongside the one I strove to create is hardly surprising. That not everyone was able to play the role I would have chosen for them is hardly their fault. We each have our lives, our stories, our hopes, dreams, our expectations and our priorities. It’s a miracle really that we manage to interweave our stories as successfully as we do.
It’s a deeply-held maxim of mine, spoken initially by Gandhi I believe, that we cannot control the actions of others, we can only control our responses to them. On this occasion – it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last – my hold on that adage slipped. I did react to the actions of others – albeit for the most part under the surface. I was sad, and hurt, and confused and angry and frustrated and disappointed. And those who witnessed what I revealed were invariably kind and understanding, patient and supportive. And for that, I thank them.
Writing as I am from the cushion a golden autumn when life has returned to a more even keel at least for the moment, I have more perspective and a small degree of wisdom about that family-filled time. Of the undercurrents swirling beneath the surface back then, some have been soothed and have settled to glassy pools of quiet acceptance. Others are still choppy and the waters remain unsettled. And some have grown stormier still and have thrown up eddies and whirlpools and maelstroms which may continue to ebb and flow in unpredictable tidal surges.
But I’ve waited to write this until I can look back and smile at the fun we had and the time that we shared.
Life, meanwhile, continues on its messy way: not as a romantic idyll in a quiet corner of Cornwall but as a tapestry of light and dark, depth and shade and multi-faceted faces.
There were numerous highlights from that period and I am thankful that I can look back now and appreciate them. And there will be more highlights ahead: the colours have switched from the fresh and lively blues and greens and yellows of high summer to the rich and warming russets and auburns and golds of deep autumn. Our thoughts already turn towards Christmas and further family gatherings.
My challenge is marry up these many and varied themes and threads; to keep sight of the whole unfolding picture as it grows; to remember that life is a glorious and messy business; and to continue to give thanks for whole shebang!