In celebration of…..families
Christmas is nearly upon us, and people around the country are gearing up for an intense family fest. This can involve spending time with members of your family you would not necessarily choose to, but nevertheless with the best intentions.
My father, who was a great one for bons mots, particularly liked the saying: ‘God gave us our families, thank God we can choose our friends’. He did have a somewhat chequered relationship with certain members of his family, and as he is no longer around to defend his corner, we’ll just have to let that one go.
Well, I am ending this year with a very different attitude. In the last few months I have had the fun of spending time with some members of my extended family whom I scarcely knew or had never met. And this is because they live in the US. We are all descended from the same great grandfather, Simon Pevan, who, along with thousands of others, fled the pogroms in Odessa (then in Russia) at the end of the 19th century and arrived in the UK with virtually nothing. The story goes that he got off the boat and was asked what work he could do. He was a tailor, and by the end of that day was set up in a workshop in the East End plying his craft. Later, he found a room for the night.
He was married and had seven children. Three were born in Odessa, and the other four were born in London after his arrival. Once they grew up, four stayed in London, and the other three moved to Chicago. The London set all lived in flats on two adjoining streets, and the Chicago set were all located equally near to each other. As first-generation citizens of a new country, family was important to them, and they remained close throughout their lives.
Through a series of happy coincidences, three of my American cousins decided to visit the UK this year, either for work or social reasons. The result? A chance to get to know a new set of people, and to reconnect with cousins over here with whom I had lost touch.
The extraordinary thing was how close to each other we all feel, even though we are three generations removed from Simon Pevan. Sitting in my home, in restaurants and in galleries with everyone, and sharing stories of our lives and memories of our parents and grandparents was extraordinarily empowering. They were quite a bunch. One of them fled the UK to avoid being enlisted in the army during the First World War. Another had an affair with an American soldier billeted in London during the Second World War – as head of supplies he was a good person to know during wartime rationing. They ended up marrying and spending the rest of their lives together in Dallas in Texas.
I also discovered there is another branch living in New Zealand, where I happen to be going after Christmas. I’m going to try hard to meet them too. And then of course there’s the branch who live in Canada …
For obvious reasons we won’t all be sitting round the same table on 25 December, but they will all be on my mind and we’ll have a virtual drink together.
Happy Christmas to you and to your families.