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Archive for May, 2010

I have a plethora of  first cousins – 58 at last count. My Dad was one of 14 children (See Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14) and most of his siblings had several children each. Most of my cousins lived in my home town and I had regular interactions with them. I also have several cousins from my Mom’s side of the family (See Archiving Photos, and Telling the Family Story). They lived in another state and we didn’t see them very often.

Several of my many cousins

On Sundays, my Dad would take us kids for a drive  and we would drop in unexpectedly at his numerous brothers & sister’s houses – as well as his mother’s.  I remember making the rounds when my mother had a baby and was in the hospital for a few days. He threw us in the car and we visited between 8 or 9 of his siblings that day. He told the same stories and details to each family and all the cousins were impressed with the idea of a new sister. We played with all of the cousins’ toys and games and returned home with new appreciation for the fun of playing with cousins. There was something special about it. We didn’t know them that well (there were so many), but they seemed to like us and treat us in a way set apart from other childhood friends that we had. The connection was  a mystery to us – we were bonded to each other in a way we didn’t really understand.

My Grandmother's House - My Dad and his family

There was always another family or two at my Grandmother’s house. There were several cousins that I didn’t know well, but it was like a school playground in her backyard. We climbed trees or played some kind of ball while waiting for our parents to visit. We went there unannounced and it was a surprise to us to see who might be there.  I knew the cousins that lived closer to us much better than the ones that went to another school. But they were all interesting to me. There was one other cousin that had red hair as I did and it intrigued me to see how she handled the teasing. Sometimes I felt like I was looking in a mirror. There were 4 boy cousins within a year of my age. Their antics were very impressionable to me when I was about 7 years old. They decided to have a peeing contest to see who could pee the furthest from behind the line. I couldn’t figure out how to participate, but observed that their antics looked like they were having fun.

My grandmother started a tradition of a family reunion 55 years ago. There was not room for all family members to meet at one location, so someone reserved a park shelter and we all met there. Every one would bring a casserole or dessert to share and the kids were usually treated to ice cream or popsicles. There were some organized games for the cousins, but the best fun was the impromptu activities that occurred on the playground. I didn’t know who were brothers and sisters with each other and didn’t know who their parents were, but it didn’t matter. It is still a tradition even though the older generation has mostly died. It is mostly just the cousins and their offspring that attend now. The connection still exists. Our histories are forever entangled.

My parents lived around the corner from my Dad’s brother Jim and his wife Mid. They came over to our house each weekend to play pinochle and my cousins Brian and Shelly came with their parents.  Brian was exactly a year younger than me and Shelly was 3 years younger. Sometimes we played our own card games to play, but usually we found more interesting activities. We went outside for hours until late in the night to shoot the basketball. Several times the ball would hit me in the face because it was too dark to see it. To this day I can beat anyone I know in the game of H-O-R-S-E. Brian worked on his ’56 Chevy in his high school years and I hung out with him and observed his hobby. In college I changed the oil in my own cars and changed out the water pump when it malfunctioned. In our activities together, Brian became my brother. The photos of my antics with my cousins may have faded, but my memories have not. These memories are the essence of my childhood in a very large family.

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