Whatever my siblings and I lacked in material things growing up, we were rich in cousins. My mother was one of a dozen children and my father one of six. As close as I can figure, I have more than 60 first cousins ranging from 10 years my senior to 20 years younger. I am one of the older cousins in both of my parents’ families.
In addition, I have scores of second cousins (my parents’ cousins’ children) — some of whom I am close to — but I have never attempted to count them.
Several events in the past year have connected me with first cousins.
During my mother’s last days in hospice care late last year several cousins came to visit her. Their visits were deeply appreciated and it was good to see them. Even more cousins came to Mom’s funeral and visitation.
One of my aunts passed away in April and many cousins attended her funeral, some who I hadn’t seen in years.
A cousin suffered a fatal heart attack while mowing grass in June. He was one of nine children and when one of my brothers and I drove to Waverly for the visitation we had an opportunity to visit with more cousins. We even got to meet some of our cousins’ children — now middle aged — who we hadn’t seen since childhood.
A couple of weeks later our mother’s family gathered for our annual family reunion and again we met more cousins’ children. I finally resorted to walking up to strangers, extending my hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Arvid. Who are you?”
At that reunion I chatted with a cousin who lives just 10 minutes from us. Several times we have talked about getting together but it never happened. This year we actually set a date and time.
On a recent evening Julie and I picked up Mike and Janet and we drove to a popular Italian restaurant.
Mike is nearly four years younger than I am but we were together frequently as children. Mike’s older sister and I have been good friends over the years. Several times Mike spent time at our home with my younger brothers and I have memories of the mischief they got into while together.
One summer afternoon they had been out for a couple of hours and when they returned to the house all three were visibly ill. Mom put them to bed and told me I would have to deliver my brothers’ newspaper routes. When I returned home from delivering newspapers to the entire town (it was a small town) I learned the boys’ “illness” was the result of smoking cigars under a nearby railroad bridge. I was miffed at the time but Mike and I have had many laughs over the incident in the years that have followed.
At our recent get-together the four of us enjoyed a good Italian meal and nearly two hours of conversation.
Now in our 60s and 70s it was fun to reminisce about our grandparents and Sunday afternoons at their house. We had a good time remembering uncles and aunts and other relatives who had been part of our lives over the years, sadly most of them now deceased.
Mike’s and my mother were sisters. I reminded Mike of the time he was visiting our home and my mother scolded my brothers. Mike, accustomed to scolding at his own home, told our mother, “You holler just like my mom.”
After high school Mike served four years in the Navy and then attended Washington University in St. Louis where he lived in “the projects” with a community of Russian Jewish immigrants and then had an extensive career in social work. Our conversation covered an eclectic mix of topics while our wives patiently carried on their own conversation about grandchildren and other more normal matters.
Later than evening, thinking on our dinner and conversation, I realized that having more than 60 first cousins is a gift and now that we’re all getting older and I am retired I need to become more active in getting reacquainted with them.
It has been said that nobody will understand the craziness of your family better than your cousins. And in our family that’s important.
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.