It was a sunny, warm Boxing Day. They headed to their home town, some coming just a short distance, others on a once-in-several-years trip south, and made their way to a park. They arrived gradually, spreading chairs and blankets under the trees, preparing for a picnic.
The park was familiar to most of them that day; just the right place for a picnic. This was where, at the end of each school year, their tiny country primary school held an end-of-year picnic. The family was a large one, so there were always uncles and aunts and cousins there along with the neighbours and teachers. This was a rural district, and so almost all parents were able to get the day off work or away from the farm. They would arrive in the late morning, with a game of softball. This was a community; they played, as they lived and worked, together. The chilly bins and picnic baskets would come out, the camp chairs and tables, the special picnic food – perhaps some bacon and egg pie, and jelly for dessert. Then the activities would begin. Races, lots of races. Girlhood friends since kindergarten practised for the three-legged-race, one father declaring that they were “as awkward as a cow with a gun.” They were a little offended, as they thought they were getting the hang of it, not easy considering the different lengths of their legs. The smaller girl didn’t know the phrase, and burst into shy giggles. The children ran their races, the usual carnage of the sack race ending in more giggles. Then it was time for the parents’ race. This always brought out the adults’ competitiveness, even at their advanced ages (though much younger than they all are now). At the end of the day, a small ceremony would be held. The school committee managed to fund-raise enough each year to buy every child in the school a book, just for themselves. The teachers chose the books, some of them life-changing, all of them appreciated. Each child was called up to receive their book, made to feel special, made to feel part of the community.
These memories flooded back to the cousins, as they arrived at the familiar green lawn lined by many beautiful trees – the trees were bigger now, but so were they. One by one, the families arrived. Greetings were made, and they gave each other sincere, long, warm, bear hugs filled with love and happiness, as well as regret for their lost youth and lost opportunities to spend more time together. These cousins had been such an important part of their childhoods, but they saw each other so rarely now. Two of them, only nine days apart in age, confirmed that it had indeed been 21 years since they last saw each other, at his wedding. It had been even longer since seeing another cousin, though she looked just the same. That was the thing; the cousins mostly looked the same, yet more like their parents too.
The time passed quickly, too quickly, obscenely quickly. Wives hastily swapped contact details and made social media connections, and promised to keep in touch. They all vowed and declared it would not be another 21 years or more. They really hope that’s true.