Family, particularly extended family, is complicated – just ask anybody with an in-law. And yet there are some families who despite the complications and the sometimes messy relationships, defy the odds and see through the differences to the commonalities.
They’re the families who are able to put aside their perceived – or sometimes not so perceived grievances – and just enjoy each other’s company.
Eighteen years after their last family reunion, the past weekend saw the long-awaited Dicey family reunion, a get-together of 148 first, second and third cousins in Claremont, on a typically wet and chilly Cape winter day.
These 148 individuals, in one way or another, are all descendants of Leicester Dicey who in 1892 came to South Africa from England to start a fruit growing business, the Cape Orchard Company.
In a relatively short period of time, the Cape Fruit Orchard Company became a large fruit growing and export business with a number of farms in the Western Cape, particularly the Hex River Valley and Wolseley.
Leicester and his wife Ethel had six sons, Mordaunt, Gerald, Guy, Jack, Arthur and Chris. Leicester and Ethel built their first homestead in the Hex River Valley on a farm called Orchard. Reunions, recalls one of their granddaughters, Diana (nee Dicey) Burns, have always been important to the family. Each Christmas the family gathered together with their six sons, their wives and 21 grandchildren at Orchard.
“Christmas at Orchard is one of my most vivid and fond memories of my childhood,” said Diana. “The house itself was full of countless bedrooms leading off a front stoep and endless hidden surprises. The house was surrounded by a large garden, home to a flock of peacocks, as well as a tennis and croquet court. Filled with trees, shrubs and hedges, it was the perfect garden for hide-and-seek.”
The climax of Christmas Day, she reminisced, was Christmas dinner which the children were only allowed to attend once they turned eight. Men wore dinner jackets and bow-ties while the women were in full evening dress. The sumptuous dinner that followed included roast peacock.
Leicester’s wife Ethel sat at the head of the table as the archetypal matriarch, accompanied by a hearing aid the size of a car battery which was plugged into the light socket above her seat at the dining room table.
Next to the table, recalled Diana, was a large cage which housed Polly, an African Grey parrot, who was very good at mimicking her grandmother’s voice and often called out the names of the six brothers in chronological order. Ironically, Polly died of fright during one Christmas dinner when the crackers were pulled, literally falling off her perch.
All of Leicester and Ethel’s six sons became farmers in turn, many of them taking responsibility for farms acquired by the Cape Orchard Company. Today the descendants of Leicester and Ethel are spread across the globe although many of them have remained in the Western Cape, with a number of them remaining true to their farming roots.
The most recent Dicey family reunion was a typically joyous occasion with many happy reminisces of a family that has been steeped in tradition for several generations. It saw second cousins reunited and third cousins meeting, sometimes for the first time.
With family, there is a shared bond, a commonality, a shared sense of self that others sometimes find hard to identify with. This family reunion, hosted by Jean (nee Dicey) and Mike Buckham, in their Claremont home, was no exception.
“The amazing thing about the Diceys is that they all love each other and thoroughly enjoy one another’s company, surely unique in any family,” said Diana.