It’s a truism of contemporary life, I guess, that family members often find themselves separated by great distances. And it’s not even necessarily contemporary — this diaspora has been going on for generations, centuries.
My family history of the twentieth century has members separating themselves from their cousins, their brothers and sisters, by half a continent (Ontario to Saskatchewan); a century and more before that as part of the Anabaptist migration from Germany/Switzerland, their forefathers separated themselves from their extended families by crossing the Atlantic. Of course, America and Canada were colonised by European immigrants leaving many of their family members behind. Carrie’s family were part of colonial Rhodesia, contributing to the education service there, before she came back to London for university.
An important component of the industrial development of America was the arrival of over a hundred lead miners from the Allenheads pits in 1851 fresh off the heels of an unsuccessful strike over part work. A descendant of one of those families, the Nattrasses, contacted us at Elpha Green some years ago from the west coast of America, to say her family had lived here before that emigration. She hoped one day to visit herself, but the internet would have to suffice for now. But just this past weekend, a family from Australia, who had lived here in the ’70s, when our side was still a barn, drove up the long track for a trip down memory lane. Come to think of it, I probably arrived in London, from Philadelphia, around about the time they were living here!
Our daughter is travelling to Sydney to work in a children’s hospital there for a year. Will she be seduced by the Bondi Beach lifestyle to stay? Or maybe the weather will be too hot for a girl from these cool north-eastern parts to contemplate putting down roots. But it’s not too bad for our dear friend Lynda MacGregor (now Williams), who’s been living there for nearly a decade now. Other children from this parish, from our daughter’s generation, have moved to Australia and New Zealand. From the generation before that, to Singapore, Hong Kong, and south-east Asia. We know one who has recently spent some years teaching English to young children in China! My cousin from Ontario lived in Cambodia, and then in Kabul, Afghanistan, on nation-building exercises facilitated by international NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Folks travel about the earth, seeking out their own adventures. But everyone is fascinated by the question: ‘Where did we come from?’
Home is still home, no matter where you travel. Even when your new home is permanent, fixed like a rock. Somehow the home of your childhood stays with you forever. I’d be hard pressed, actually, to imagine a more delightful childhood than that kids can experience here in the Allen Valleys. Such a childhood must be imprinted on their minds for their entire lives. But whether they stay, or whether they leave for parts unknown, today’s local children are tomorrow’s world builders, and if we work towards happiness for them, surely we might be contributing to the spread of happiness throughout the planet as well.