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Nat Locke: Childhood holidays spent with a troupe of cousins are one of my most magical memories

I have a question. Do kids still have cousins these days?

And I don’t mean that in a genealogical sense. Obviously, the literal notion of a cousin still exists. What I mean, is do they still have a tribe of similarly aged blood relatives that they rampage around with for large chunks of the school holidays?

I suspect that as our families have been decreasing in size over the last couple of generations, there are fewer cousins as a result, but still, do they hang together and form tiny gangs?

I’m thinking about cousins this week because, in what can only be described as a quirk of fate, one of my cousins and I have ended up in the same online creative writing class. This is definitely a weird coincidence given that there are only about 30 people in the class from all over the country (and a few internationals) and yet, there we are. This gave us a great opportunity to catch up over the phone and now we’re catching up in person next time he’s in town.

And yes, adult cousins are great. But kid cousins were the best.

My childhood holidays were spent almost exclusively in the company of cousins. I had a fair few of them, admittedly: nine on one side of the family and eleven on the other. Although to be fair, I don’t know all of them well. There are four in Tasmania that I couldn’t pick out of a line-up, for example. But there are several of them who hold special places in my childhood memories.

Periodically, a cluster of cousins would arrive for a couple of weeks R&R in our seaside idyll. They would sleep on mattresses on our bedroom floors and we would all share one bathroom. We would be packed into cars and driven to the beach for the day, or a drive-in movie at night, or forced to do swimming lessons in town, or go fishing with an uncle who would be displeased at the fact that you picked one of the fish out of the bucket to have a closer look at it, then dropped it down a crack between two rocks (for a completely hypothetical, definitely-didn’t-happen-to-me example). We would ride my cantankerous pony and go picking mallee roots or fanging around paddocks in the back of a ute. The homemade ping-pong table got quite the workout.

The significant appeal of my cousins was that they weren’t my brothers. And in fact, my Mum and her two sisters contributed greatly to my vacational happiness by all having daughters in the same year. Three of us were born within nine months of each other, which meant we were as thick as thieves. For two glorious weeks, it was like I had a sister or two, but without sharing quite as much DNA. When you’re usually stuck on a farm 40km out of town with only two older brothers as company, this was a godsend, believe me. I didn’t have the luxury of popping down the street to my best friend’s house. In the summer holidays, I wouldn’t see my friends until school started again. So having cousins in the house 24/7 was heavenly.

The cousins didn’t always come to our place, of course. Sometimes we all descended on our grandparents’ places. This meant we were either swimming in the creek and having mulberry fights whilst perched on the branches of a mulberry tree on the outskirts of Tambellup, or roaming around a Bruce Rock farm trying to see how many toddlers would fit on a motorbike. Look, it’s just lucky occupational health and safety wasn’t a thing yet. But can you imagine how much fun it was?

The upper time limit was usually two weeks, probably because that was the longest that my grandmothers could be bothered feeding us for. Or maybe that was as long as anyone could take off their day jobs. Or as long as we could be away from the farm. Who knows? But for those two magical weeks we were incredibly tight. We were squeezed into a bedroom together, whispered into the night together, and consumed an awful lot of lollies together. We were a happy, merry little troupe.

And then, just like that, we wouldn’t see one another for about half a year. There was no Facetime, no SnapChat, and even long distance phone calls were expensive. Maybe a letter or two was exchanged, but that was a rarity too. Our interaction went from 100 to zero as soon as my uncle’s car disappeared out of sight.

And yet the next time we saw one another, we were straight back to being besties again.

These days, there are several of my cousins who I only see at funerals, which is what happens when you grow up, I suppose. So, thank goodness for online creative writing courses, bringing our family back together one cousin at a time.

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