Our Relations are a race apart. They are not often our friends; rarer still are they our enemies. They are just “relations”–men and women who treat our endeavours towards righteousness with all the outspoken hostility of those who dislike us, whom yet we do not want to quarrel with because then there may be nobody left except the village doctor to bury us.
Relations always seem to know us too little, and too well. The good in us is continually warped by the bad in us–which, in parenthesis, is the only one of our secrets relatives ever seem able to keep. To tell the world of our faults would be like throwing mud at the family tree. Moreover, relations always seem born with long memories. There is no one in this world who remembers quite so far back, nor quite so vividly, as a mother-in-law. And one’s relations-in-law are but one’s own relations in a concentrated and more virulent form. And yet everybody is somebody’s relation. You consider that remark trite, perhaps? Well, “trite” it undoubtedly is, and yet it is extremely difficult to realise. The middle-aged woman whom you find so charming, so sympathetic, so very “understanding,” may send her nephews and nieces fleeing in all directions the moment she appears among them. The man you look upon as being an insufferable bore may still be Miss Somebody-or-other’s best beloved Uncle John. It is so hard to explain. It is almost as hard to explain as the charm of the man your closest woman-friend marries. What she can see in him you cannot for the life of you perceive, while he, on his part, secretly wonders why the woman he loves ever sought friendship with such a pompous, dull ass as you are. Love is blind, so they say. Well, so is friendship–so are relations–blind to everything except your faults.
Another odd thing about relations is that only very rarely can you ever make friends with them. At best, your intimacy amounts to nothing more than a truce. You are extremely lucky if it isn’t open warfare. They know at once too little about you and too much. They never by any chance acknowledge that you have changed, that you are a better man than once you were. What you have once been, in their opinion, you will always be–so help-them-heaven-to-hide-the-wine-cellar-key! You may change your friends as you “grow out” of them, or they “grow out” of you; but your relations are for ever immutable. The friends of your youth you have sometimes nothing in common with later on, except “memories”; and except for these “memories” there is little or no tie between you. But the “memories” of friends centre around pleasant things, whereas the “memories” of relations seem to specialise at all times in the disagreeable. Moreover, relations will never acknowledge that you have ever really grown up. This is one of their most tiresome characteristics. To them you will always be the little boy who forgot to write profusive thanks for the half-a-crown they gave you when you first went to school. You can always tell the man or woman who live among their relatives. They possess no individuality, no “vision”; they are narrow, self-centred, pompous, clannish–with that clannishness which means only complete self-satisfaction with the clan. They take their mental and moral “cue” from the oldest generation among them. The younger members are, metaphorically speaking, patted on the head and told to believe in grandpapa as they believe in God.
No, the great benefit of having relations is to come back to them. To visit them is like stirring up once more the memories of your lost youth, which time and distance have rendered faint. And to return once more to one’s youth is good for every man. It makes him realise himself, and the “thread” which has been running through his life linking all the incidents together. And, as I said before, relations are agreeable adjuncts at your own funeral, since you may always depend upon them saying nice things about you when it’s too late for you to hear them. Friends will never do that. They don’t need to. They carry your epitaph with them written on their own hearts. The “nice” things have been said–they have been said to YOU.