Cousins are those childhood playmates who grow up to be forever friends — Anonymous
Besides growing up with five brothers and two sisters, I was blessed with 45 first cousins. My father came from a family of 9 children and my mother was from a family of 5 and family gatherings were large, crowded, boisterous affairs. Most of us lived fairly close to one another and we saw each other rather frequently. Outside of school, I spent more time with my cousins than any childhood friends.
We had annual reunions, huge Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, first communion and confirmation parties, birthday, anniversary, graduation, and wedding celebrations as well as visits to each other’s homes. Most of the celebrations were with either the maternal or paternal side of the family, but occasionally both sides would be together.
I recall some planned play with some of the cousins. Our reunions usually included swimming and/or playground equipment to play on. Sometimes at birthdays we played cards or dice games or bingo. I remember an Easter egg hunt in the hay mow of our dairy barn organized by my mother. There were softball games. Many times we just amused ourselves with random games of anything that caught our fancy. Of course, as we grew up our interests and the way we spent our time changed but we continued to get together.
But life happens. As we got older and started to have jobs, we saw less and less of each other. Some of us went away to college; others did not. Pretty soon we only saw each other at weddings and funerals. Some of us moved far away from the communities of our youth and visits became less and less frequent.
At the end of last month, my brother and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. All of our first cousins were invited. Many of them were able to attend. I flew half way across the country to join in the festivities. I saw many cousins and their spouses, some of whom I had not seen in 40 years. We conversed as if we had not been separated for decades. We caught up on family news. We laughed and we reminisced and memorialized some who are deceased. Of all my aunts and uncles only one is still alive, and she attended with her children. In a group as large as ours there is quite an age disparity. When we were children I was among the younger set of cousins and the older ones didn’t play with us. At this time of our lives those age differences no longer matter. I had great conversations with some cousins who I had never conversed with before. Even though our lives took wild divergent paths, there is something about those common roots that will always bind us together.
Our time together was bittersweet, because we are all aging and there is a distinct possibility that we will never see some of these people again. That is why it is so important to unite and celebrate the milestones when you can. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our time together.
My own daughter did not have the benefit of growing up near her cousins. She barely knows some of them. Society has changed with smaller families and much greater mobility. Many family connections are lost. Hopefully, adequate substitutes are found to replicate some of the advantages of an extended family. That just may be the topic for another time.
Reconnecting with my cousins, another thread of my life.