In my father’s family there were 10 children. All were born over a hundred years ago.
We have a picture on our wall of that Hummel dozen and none are smiling. That’s how pictures were posed at that time.
The original dozen are all long gone now. I had scores of cousins from that group, but most of them are gone as well.
On my mother’s side of the family, there were nine children, born from 1911 through 1920. (No mistake there, nine children born in 10 years.) No smiles in their Saldin picture either.
The oldest was Val, my mom, and the youngest was Ted, the last one alive, who at the age of 93, just passed away. From that bunch I have many cousins.
After attending three family memorial services in the past month, one for dear old Ted, one for my much-too-young nephew, Chris, and one for my step-brother, Rolf, who had no cousins, I appreciate cousins even more than ever — my cousins, and my children’s cousins.
When I grew up, cousins stayed for days with other cousins’ families. We learned about farms and corner grocery stores, we learned about teens before we were teens, we learned about toddlers after no more were in our own home, we learned from mothers and dads other than our own, we learned from cousins our own age who had more rules than we did and some who had fewer.
All this gave us a broader sense of family than we could get in our own home. Most of these things we forget until we saw our cousins again years later as adults, scattered in all directions.
Cousins are different than friends. When they are thrown together with enough time to stir one another’s memories and tell stories, details come out and fit into place like dabs of paint that fill blank spots in pictures.
Comments like, “Oh, I never knew that,” “Ah, I’ve often wondered about that;” “Yes, that’s a family trait, they all tear up in seconds;” “They loved to tease one another;” “He was funny, but he was a terrible story teller, he would start laughing when he got to the punch line and you could never hear the end;” “He never told me either, that’s a question we’ll never know the answer to;” “I realize now you have a nose just like your uncle;” “Your dad gave me encouragement when I was drifting;” “I was your mother’s favorite. She never said it in so many words, but I just knew” (about a dozen said that).
The more cousins you talk to, the more dabs of paint to fill blank spots, or spots you didn’t even know were blank.
Cousins are different than brothers and sisters too. From brothers and sisters, we get the “inside” view, even if it may not be the same inside view as our own. From cousins, we get the “not quite inside” view. It’s all part of the family mix and it’s all good.
So, if you want my advice about cousins (or if you don’t), here it is: Cherish your cousins. They will remember things you never knew. They will remember things you thought you knew, but you had it wrong. They will remember things you knew but had forgotten.
They will show up at places where you don’t expect to see them. They will remind you of what you have in common; some of the “same stuff,” but in different combinations.
They will comfort you while you are comforting them. Cousins rarely say “I love you,” but they really do. Don’t wait for the next uncle or nephew to die before you see your cousins again. For some, there may not be another chance. Cherish them soon, in person.