I love my Outlaws. I've known them for 28 years. ChattyBetty and SpunkyArt are as much a part of our family as anyone and even though I've been widowed for 20 years, we keep in touch. They love their grandchildren and ClareBear particularly as the only granddaughter holds special charm for them. But there is one event that we attend each year out of loyalty that we loathe. The Melville Family Tree. Melville was ChattyBetty's maiden name and it's a gathering of the clan. But there's no caber tossing or highland shenanigins with this lot. It's water bombs and geriatric races for a paltry 50cent piece.
ChattyBetty was one of 14 children. Country family, good Catholics. A close knit family who lived through rural hardship before moving to Sydney from Wagga and establishing lives of their own. I started going to this event, usually held on the second week of October when I was 'courting' (now there's a quaint word) my lovely Ray. It was fun and used to be held on an Uncle's airstrip. Warm weather, picnic food, silly games and the chance to catch up with family. There seemed to be loads of people my age at that time, early 20's and it was fun flirting and chatting. Then with small children, it was a hoot watching the little tykes stuff themselves stupid with icecream then worrying about them throwing up on the trip home.
But these days, some have passed on - old and young. I have little connection with other members of this enormous family and we gather beneath a galvanised corrugated iron roof for lunch, more silly games and raffles to raise money for next year's hire. Don't get me wrong. I love the opportunity to catch up with my Outlaws and a few of their friends, but I simply don't know these people and my kids are even more distant. There are obviously families who socialise outside this event and find it pleasant to have a day out together but they stick to their cliques and I hardly know their names. Ray's brother's children haven't shown for years with the exception of LankyJack who also gets dragged kicking and screaming by his parents.
I know all attendees are important to ChattyBetty and Spunky Art, I even know some of their names but being greeted continuously by a string of elderly people who insist on crunching their water crackers and talking at the same time is well . . laborious. Not to mention the times someone says "Owww, is this AdamJ? My he's grown into a lovely big boy!" or putting pressure on ClareBear "Awww there's plenty of time yet to find a husband. Maybe you'll meet a nice boy overseas." (she's 23 for goodness sake, no biological clock ticking there just yet!) It's only one day a year so we make the sacrifice. I've missed it once in 28 years because thankfully it once fell on my birthday and I'd made other plans . . . I know it means a lot to them that we make an appearance and it's probably not as bad as the expectation when I'm there but as the kids get older, it's harder and harder to force them into this family obligation. I sometimes wish I'd remarried just to avoid the event but nobody asked me!
And my contribution to this day of coleslaw, ham off the bone,barbecue chicken, Woollies nibbly bits, ice cream and lollies? . . . Bread rolls! That's right, I am the bearer of the bread. So I'll show off and bring neat rapeseed knots, wholemeal batons, pumpkin and olive bread and they'll all say "Oh, this bread is unusual . . what are those seeds on top and what are those brown bits". It might be a humble offering but I'll do it in style . . .
Post script: actually it was a really hot day 35 in the shade. I met Doris, Aud and Barb, had a few champers . . .joked with Spunky Art who was on great form with viagra jokes. Hugged Aunty June (who my daughter had no idea about) and left gracefully. Once home, DrummerBoy made wierd cocktails involving bitters, lemons, Red Bull and Vodka and we spend two hours chatting and dipping our toes in a slightly too-cold-for-mummy-to-get-in pool. Finished nicely with two slash horror flicks. All in all . . a good . . . well rounded . . . family day.