It's over for another year. There were no hard feelings, broken teeth, kitchen fires or stunning revelations. It was just eight girl cousins, with a ninth dropping in, talking and laughing for 48 hours straight, as we have done for three years now.
To be honest, we're not exactly girls any more. The youngest girl cousin is 49 and the oldest is 66. The rest of us are somewhere in between. When you get "up there," as we are, time moves swiftly and the future is uncertain. We have lost parents and siblings and know that nothing and no one lasts forever. After meeting at funerals for years, we decided to set aside a weekend a year to gather.
We spent a lot of time together as children and teens. Some of us holidayed at the same lake. Others made summer visits to families scattered across British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec. For years, we had a family bonspiel on Boxing Day that brought many of us together. We were close because our parents were close, but we drifted apart as we embarked on our adult lives. Then the funerals started and with them a reconnection - and the cousins' weekends.
We come from Vancouver Island, the lower mainland, Alberta and as far away as California. We rent two townhouses on the ocean near Nanaimo, B.C., and hope the neighbours won't complain about the noise and commotion.
One year, we had the Big Flame-out, in which a plastic tray went into a hot oven, sending toxic fumes throughout one unit. Eight coughing cousins crouched in the rain, waiting for the resort to detect the problem. For a brief moment, as fire engines screamed through the night, we were 10 again and very bad girls. But the fire trucks sailed by to some other disaster, the unit was aired out and the plastic-coated oven rack became part of the cousins' weekend memorabilia.
The three surviving aunts are curious about what goes on, as are the boy cousins. One aunt said, "My ears will be burning," and yes, there was a certain amount of family lore exchanged. But there was also talk about vacations, kids today, hair products, the medical system, capitalism, how to freeze a cake, yoga pants, e-books v. print books, retirement, new kitchens and what it means to be a member of the Banks family.
Being a Banks is the common denominator, and it turns out there are eerie similarities among us. For example, we are competitive. On our weekends the cousins split into two teams, each arranging entertainment for a night. One year, we held the Banks Olympics to showcase our Banks housekeeping skills (the melted oven rack stood in for the Olympic torch). Events included speed ironing, estimating cup measures by scooping handfuls of flour and tidiest installation of a full set of hair rollers.
This year we had to guess which aunt was represented by a song (my mother was Leader of the Pack because she was the oldest girl), and bring an object that reflected some aspect of Banks life for show and tell.
We Banks girls are also good cooks, although we try desperately not to get competitive in that area. We had two fine egg stratas one morning, crab appetizers one evening and a superb soup for lunch. We never even think of eating out - too expensive and the food's not good enough. This year, there was talk of compiling a cookbook to share the cousins' and their mothers' signature recipes.
Sharing information is a big part of the weekend. Who knew, for example, that you could return unsatisfactory toilet paper to the store, or that trip insurance is so treacherous, or that you can freeze slices of cake on a cookie sheet and, when frozen, wrap them in plastic wrap to be defrosted individually as needed - if your husband doesn't get to them first. These are valuable life lessons that have saved us time and money.
Because saving money is in the Banks genes. Our parents grew up in a family of nine children on a Manitoba farm during the Depression. In one way or another, they communicated the message loud and clear that money was not to be thrown around. At show and tell this year, two sisters brought along their mother's favourite towel. Even though she lives in a swish retirement home, the towel looked like it had come from the original Manitoba homestead. But it still did the job, so why throw it out?
It is also a great sin in our family to waste food, which makes the end of a cousins' weekend a challenge. It turns out, at our age, that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, just as our mothers warned. Food that has been brought, cooked and partly eaten gets packed up again and trucked home. (It's entirely possible, given our frugal natures, that some of it might be frozen and brought back next year.)
Because we have similar food preferences, leftovers tend to be concentrated in certain food groups. For example, we all buy fruit because our mothers told us to, but we seldom eat it. This year I came home with two cantaloupes, which, for someone who doesn't eat fruit, is a lot.
As for next year? We're hoping the 10th girl cousin from Manitoba will make it to the weekend. Some of us haven't seen her since she was a toddler. We're also thinking of a theme. Personally, I'd like to see a reenactment of Bye Bye Birdie, a film that was a defining moment for a group of us when we were in our early teens. But I'd be happy with Gidget Goes Hawaiian or any other theme, as long as it involves lots of laughter, shared memories and very little fruit.
Valerie Wyatt lives in Victoria.