I almost missed the boat on the cousin connection. As a little kid, growing up in Connecticut I knew we had a bunch of aunts, uncles and cousins, grandparents too, back in northwestern Pennsylvania but we hardly ever saw each other and by the time our family moved to Pennsylvania the cousins and my sister and I were too old to play hide and seek and chase fireflies.
We were in high school or college and starting to be adults. Then my sister settled on the east coast and I took the west coast and then we only saw the Pennsylvania relatives for the occasional wedding or funeral.
But I envied friends with deep long-time cousin relationships, who hang out, call each other every week, put together family vacations at mountain cabins. In some cases they’re closer to their cousins than their brothers and sisters.
I’m delighted that our California grandchildren have their own covey of little cousins they’ve known since birth and will probably be in each others’ lives forever. Maybe you need to make a strong cousin foundation at that early age. I fondly recall the homes of Pennsylvania relatives that came with barns and creeks and woods. One even had a wonderfully spooky family cemetery. But they weren’t part of my regular world, nor were the cousins.
Now, we cousins are the matriarchs and patriarchs of our families. We’re getting up there. Some cousins have died. And I, so late in the game, still have questions about where we all came from.
And so when the chance came to meet up with some Pennsylvania cousins my sister and I decided it was time for a reunion. Jack is our mother’s sister’s son married to Carole.
We met in Vermont, where they were finishing a bike trip. At 71 and only slightly older than me, the had ably taken on Vermont’s steep hills in the heat and rain. It’s encouraging to discover strong, firm apples hanging on your family tree.
I like any excuse to go to New England and Vermont was a neutral and attractive place for a family reunion. I also admit to an occasional hipper-than-thou California attitude especially when it comes to rural Middle America, as if it’s all about church suppers and worrying the government will take your guns.
Of course it’s silly and unfair to label people by where they hang their mailbox and now I see it was my loss. These Pennsylvania relatives, retired teachers, not only are gonzo bicyclists they ski from their back yard, make maple syrup, have created bright and talented kids and grand-kids and travel the world. After Vermont they were on their way to China. I liked them so much I didn’t even ask their politics, although I was pleased to learn they don’t think much of the No Child Left Behind program. And they are loyal newspaper readers.
They also know family things my sister and I did not. That our mothers had a two year old brother who died after falling down the cellar steps. That our grandfather, the kindly small town undertaker, was a shrewd businessman. That we have Native American ancestry, confirmed by another cousin who lives in South Dakota.
That is the beauty of cousins, I’m learning. They never get bored with family stories or staring at old black and white photo albums. They’re people who even decades down the road you recognize as your own. Jack looked at his feet and my feet in sandals and said, “You can tell we’re related. Look at those toes.”