At the end of October I was in Cornwall for a wedding. “Who’s getting married?” folk asked when I told them what I was up to this half term. “My second cousin”, I replied. She is a dear lady who is a couple of years older than me, and this wasn’t her first rodeo, if you know what I mean. At the wedding was her grandmother, aged 98. This 98 year old was married to my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather, his brother and his sister were all farmers in Oxfordshire, around Banbury. The family bond was cement-strong, and when my grandmother married into this family she caused a ruckus by wanting to live outside the family farm and have her own household. Understandably, her kids, close in age to her nieces and nephews, all rubbed along despite living on different farms and grew up together, being very close. At the wedding was also a family friend who grew up in the same village as my mother. He was also from a farming family.
Over the years this large family gets together for weddings and funerals and the occasional big birthday party. I remember going as a teenager and finding these events rather dull. And then, after the death of my mother I found them rather harrowing as her brother and cousins would declare how much I was like her and I found it hard. This wedding was a little different. My Dad wasn’t there, through ill-health, and so I had unfettered access to mum’s cousins and family friends and it was enlightening.
Both the family friend who had grown up on a farm and the father of the bride had ended-up not farming, for various reasons and both really feel that loss keenly. My uncle is still farming – by the skin of his teeth – a bit of relief milking over in Ireland. But the farming has all but gone. I heard of the lack of legacy but also, the lack of potential. I guess, also there is the loss of status of being a landowner. I find it so sad.
My brother, who is a good few years younger than me, asked why I have a stronger bond to these distant relatives than he does. And apart from being older, I couldn’t really answer him. But I think I know why, now. When I was little, and staying at my grandparents, I would often cajole them into showing me the cine films that my grandmother filmed in the late 70s. During these whirring short films depicting hot summers, epic harvests and attempts to fettle farm machinery into life, I would be shown whose farm it was, who was in it, who was related to who and see the pride about the hard team work that made farm life special. I felt proud to be a part of this farming family, despite the fact I lived in Weymouth and my dad was a local journalist.
The family friend told me that this family, the Vicary family, is special and unique. We have spread far and wide but we still have a strong connection to each other. We all know we’ve had highs and lows – had arses in our lives and been arses in return. But ultimately, we are the progeny of good people and in the end, we love each other. We don’t own an acre between us, but it’s not forgotten.