The family that travels together, goes far together

The family that travels together, goes far together. And the sweet memories of those childhood days linger, even in a too-busy age, when we are more connected by our chat groups than our great family get-togethers.

When I look back on my childhood, my favourite highlights are the camping trips with extended family. To this day, when I see a hard-boiled egg or cheese on cream crackers, I’m taken right back to the times that my cousins and I were piled into the back of a station wagon, passing the padkos Tupperware around and bouncing out of our skin in anticipation of our destination.

Every family camping trip or roadtrip started at Ouma’s house…

She was our matriarch and a formidable one at that. Her daughters were in the kitchen following instructions. That kitchen was packed to the rafters with pots and dishes and it was always a loud space. If you needed the latest gossip from church, the streets or the workplace, you were in the right place.

This tribe of women grew up together, got up to all sorts of mischief and got hidings together, so when they were gathered in that kitchen, the stories came tumbling out and the laughter was crazy loud.  My ouma would periodically escape from the cacophony to check on the men who were supposed to make sure the tents and cars were in top shape.

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Ouma was known for her razor sharp tongue. Her sons and sons-in-law knew better than to be checking cars and tents with the aid of liquid refreshments, but it didn’t stop them from trying.  Ouma would wonder out loud how far up Sir Lowry’s Pass a car can go if someone forgot about the bottle of whisky hidden behind the fan belt, or if the two beer bottles hidden in the tent flaps could keep it down in a hectic southeaster.

The aunts weren’t spared either, and we loved this, as it would give us a glimpse of our parents as kids and seeing the tables turned on them.

The only preparation the kids had to do was to make sure we packed our swimming costumes, towels and a few changes of clothing. For the rest, all we had to do was have fun and keep an eye on our younger cousins.

When I look back, I realise how fortunate I was to have my cousins so close and involved in my life

Yes, we fought and argued and informed on each other. But we always made up, hugged it out and protected one another. We were each other’s first friends, and because we came from the same dysfunctional family, we “got” each other and had so many “in” jokes.

As we grew older, we had an abundance of “other moms” we could talk to about tricky things. One of the many lessons I learnt from my aunts is that every child needs a trusted, safe adult they can talk to about complex things. Someone who won’t react the same way your parents would.

I woke up two years ago feeling quite lonely, with a deep longing for my family

Yet with all this fabulous support and togetherness growing up, I still managed to wake up two years ago feeling quite lonely, with a deep longing for my family. Our matriarch is long gone and some of the loud voices in the kitchen and the sneaky car maintenance staff have moved on to the big camping site in the sky. The cousins have grown up. Some of them are grandparents, and we somehow just don’t hang out anymore.

We all seem to be suffering from the dreaded “busy” disease

We’re so busy being grandparents, parents, and career people. The family home has been sold, and on the rare occasion that we do plan a get-together, we squabble about a central place for everyone to meet and as a result, we just never get together.

I decided to rally the troops by harnessing the power of technology

Not too long after that day of feeling so alone, I decided to rally the troops by harnessing the power of technology. I created a cousins chat group. What a treat it was. Once we started chatting, we were magically transported back to the station wagon, and if we were physically in the same space, I bet it would’ve been just as noisy as Ouma’s kitchen in the ‘80s.

We laughed, we cried, we recalled old feuds, but mostly we remembered Ouma, our parents and the great childhood they gave us. We decided to take our kids and grandkids to the places of our childhood and do a show-and-tell of about our childhood.

We’ve managed two get-togethers thus far and it was a series of lovely moments. It was happy, sad, tender, loud and everything in between. My highlight was seeing all our kids and how they look just like us.

I’m thinking of renting a station wagon to pile them in and recreate a photo of the cousins, just like my ouma had in her house. A camping trip in time, building new memories in the tracks of bygone days.

Article by Rochelle Barrish