Once upon a time, long long ago, back when I was a child, I used to feel a particular spot on planet Earth – "here" - was home. Depending on the scale I was thinking of, here was my house ...or my street ...or my northern town ...or my county ...or England ...or the UK. Here I lived with my parents and two (quite older) brothers. Here were my friends. I knew I belonged here and that this was where I slotted into the world. It wasn't the prettiest or wealthiest part of the world and certainly it was not where I would choose to be if I was given an option today. But that didn't matter – here was the place, end of. Everything made sense.
Ok, so my parents were from disparate parts of Europe (Berlin and Lvov). Because of this I barely knew my German grandparents, aunties, uncles or cousins. Visits (over what today seems a ridiculously short distance) were rare and expensive events (though forever etched into my childhood memories). As for my family in Ukraine – to me they were just images on old curly edged sepia and black and white photographs kept in a shoebox in the kitchen cupboard. With my family's own economics and world politics of the 1970s they might as well have lived on the other side of Pluto. (Even to this day I've only ever met one uncle from my dad's family when he made one visit here in the 80s after Soviet rules first started to be relaxed.)
As I grew and moved on, met and married my wife, I never strayed very far. My older brothers also married but they both independently decided to move to Australia. Fine! - good for them! – if it's for them, then I'm happy. Of course we looked at moving too but our ties here seemed too important to us.
One significant reason to stay was so I could give my to-be-born children something I never had – a close and meaningful relationship with their grandmothers (sadly both their grandfathers had died before they arrived on the scene). As a child, I was aware that in effective terms I didn't have grandparents. I never resented this as it's impossible, as a child, to miss something you've never had. However it was something I wanted for my own children. On top of this both my and my wife's widowed mothers were getting older and would be without any family support should we move away.
So my roots binding me to "here" seemed strong if not deep... at least strong enough to make me feel tied to this particular spot on planet Earth.
I probably would still be thinking this today if my wife hadn't died. This together with the death of my mother a few years earlier put a new slant on how I feel about my attachment to here. Those roots suddenly seemed to be severed.... no wife, no parents, no siblings, no extended family. Friends.. well yes, I have a group of friends but apart from one or two, they are generally just fair weather people. My only really true friend was now gone. (Paradoxically it was my departed wife who was the one with a circle of close and strongly connected friends.)
So I now find I'm sometimes thinking "What am I doing in this house, near this northern town on this grey and depressing island tucked in the top right corner of the Atlantic? Why am I here?"
The more I think about it, the more I realise that it's all completely random... it's just an accident of history that my parents met here after the war and decided to settle. I could have ended up anywhere... anywhere in the UK, or Germany or elsewhere. It really does sometimes feel like I have fallen to Earth and landed here – I certainly don't feel like I've sprouted out of the ground here and belong to the place from the bones outward.
So why am I still here? Why don't I sell up, pack up and move off somewhere more interesting and more to my liking? Well there's the rub, one set of roots may have been severed... but as they were being hacked away, another set of roots were sprouting and digging themselves into the ground. The children! Naturally they have put down their own roots – schools, friends, pets and ponies, and most strong of all, with their sole surviving grandmother (a lovely lady, but to me she is only my mother-in-law). And these roots are multiplied threefold. So whilst on the one hand I feel liberated that after 40 odd years I am free of ties and could go an do as I please, on the other I'm not at all free. It is hard to not feel that I've been out maneuvered by circumstance somewhere along the way. Oh feck!
The grandparents I never met.