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Writing a letter to the family

February 23, 2010

What do you say to a relative you haven’t spoken to for over twenty years? What do you say when you can’t even remember what they look like or what they sound like? Where do you start when you can’t explain why the contact was lost in the first place?

I’m thinking this as I wake up this morning. It’s the second consecutive morning when I wake marvelling at the benefits of a good night’s sleep. My mind is open to all sorts of different thoughts, it seems.

Stuffed in a drawer somewhere in my parents’ house there’s a photograph. A seven year-old boy knelt down in front of a wrinkly old man known as Grandad Jacob. Beside him stands a younger man I know is part of the family but whose identity is obscured. We all face the Kodak 126. The viewfiender frames these males representatives of the family as they sit in the tent set up in the garden.

Like the blurry face of the relative I’ve lost touch with, I can’t for the life of me remember exactly why it was thought a good idea to set up a tent in the garden on a Sunday afternoon.

And why did I agree to wearing the shorts my mother had dressed me in and trying to remember what events had led up to the picture being taken and what happened after?

I can see the drawer in my parents house. I can see the crumpled photograph with its faded colours. I just can’t picture the younger man. I’ve no idea what he looked like then. I certainly have no idea what he looks like now.

It’s the only picture there is with me and my grandfather. It’s also the only picture I have with my Uncle. The former is long gone now. And it seems I’m panicking a bit about the latter.

At least I know where my parents live. And I know the chest of drawers is still there with its contents still unsorted. My Uncle lives only a few miles away. And I’m commuting to West London still trying to think of how to start that letter to him 30 years after the event.

One Comment
  1. Tricky.

    I have relatives in Canada. When I was 18, I spent five weeks with them in the summer before university. They were five glorious, hilarious, exciting weeks. I got on particularly well with my cousin Gary. He is six years older than me; he was an officer in the Toronto police force, and a volunteer with the Royal Regiment of Canada. I also got on very well with his wife and whilst I was there his son had his 4th birthday party. I went on a trip with them to Virginia. We ate out, saw films, had loads of laughs.

    I kept in touch over the next few years with phone calls on Gary’s birthday and sending Christmas cards, and then suddenly it all stopped, can’t remember why.

    But I have been trying hard to get back in touch with him over the past few years. As a result of that wonderful research tool, the internet, I have discovered that Gary has spent many months serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a Colonel.

    I wanted him to know that my mum was now in a home with dementia because his mum and mine were always very close when they were young. So I got in touch with the regiment and the Personnel officer promised to pass my message on to Gary. But nothing was heard from Gary.

    A few months ago I discovered his son, no longer 4 but now 36, on Twitter. We got in contact. He said would you like my father’s contact details? Yes please, I’d really like that. No further word. I’m also friends with him on facebook. But still no further word.

    When you bang your head against a brick wall so hard that it bleeds, the relief when you stop banging is bliss. So for whatever reason it is that Gary won’t get in touch with me, I don’t think I can do any more.* But it does upset me.

    So the very best of luck with making contact with your uncle. I hope he proves to be open and friendly. But be prepared for the hurt if he isn’t.

    * I say that I won’t try any more to get in touch, but I know I’m lying. I will try again.

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