Sunday, June 7, 2015

MUSINGS: "All My Cousins"

All My Cousins
My Great Aunt Cornelia, my Grandmother
Lillie, and my Great Uncle Robert as children.
Love those smiles!

by Judith Cullen
(c) 2015

We’ve always been a bit apart, my cousins and I.  Hard times, good times, distances near and far, as well as the various interpersonal mixes that are part and parcel of an extended family are the understandable cause.  My sister and I have not always been in close touch with our contemporaries across the family strata, nor they with us.

Family is a blessing.  Family can make you crazy.  Family is wild and diverse: you are theirs and they are yours whether you like it or not.  A collection of sub-divisions on both sides of my family spin themselves into a bright spectrum of personalities: a generation vibrantly reflecting those that came before while each having a unique light all their own. Those are my cousins.

Something remarkable has happened over the past few years and, for all its dangers and cultural pitfalls, social media has made this easier than it would have been for previous generations.  We’ve all been reconnecting.  I think my sister, as usual, took the lead and began the process.  For me, it really began when a cousin came down from her home in Alaska last summer to visit her immediate family here in the Puget Sound. Almost every connection and encounter since then has been tinted with the same sweetness and surprise – the same delight.

My sister and I drove by the little neighborhood cafĂ© where we had arranged to meet our cousin Betsey.  We hadn’t seen her since the late 1960s or early 70s.  The fact that neither of us can remember exactly when is a testament to how long it had been.  Despite not seeing her for forty years or more and wondering if we would know her on sight, we recognized her almost immediately.  It always happens the same way: a moment of tentativeness to someone who seems so very familiar, but you are still unsure of.  Then the joyous mutual recognition and the years fall away like shattering barricades and you feel the connection that has lain dormant, never having been severed or lost.

With Cousins Betsey and Mel in the late 1960s
(I think it was the 60s?)
It all seems to fall away: so many years in between, so much living in other places and other focuses.  We’ve all lead our lives separate, unaware of this bond which remains.  Betsey had lost her father, as had we.  As we shared our stories, incomplete views of decades apart the things we lost no longer seemed to matter, including time.  What mattered was that this was family. The connection felt good and strong. We shared moments as children and a shared heritage.  Here she was years later, and I was as drawn to our kinship just as I was when we were small.

Childhood commonalities are not required to reignite the bright fire of connection.  I first met my cousin Fred when we were in our twenties.  Recently, he was out here on business and the Cullen girls went to breakfast with the man from Missouri.  There was that same lovely moment of recognition, and four glorious hours of stories shared. As we got in the car to go home I thought, “I am so proud to be this man’s cousin.”

They are an interesting bunch, the cousins.  Some of us are wild, some contented, some conservative, some liberal, some blessedly steady, and some still searching for direction and our place in the world even after so many decades.  Fred remembers the time I got saluted onto the local army base when I went pick him up when he was stationed there.  I remember clambering up and down the “secret staircase” in Betsey’s great aunt's house. 

There is so much more to cherish: my cousin Denzil shepherding me through an unfamiliar Episcopalian Christmas Eve service over thirty years ago; taking over my Great Aunt Cornelia’s kitchen that same year and making wonderful, messy Christmas cookies with my cousins Ben and Rod – then just wee lads and me a graduate student; being so proud of my cousin Diane when she earned her Doctorate.

I hope that there will be more of these connections made – maybe even some new ones that I haven’t ever
A Bell Family gathering of cousins in the 1940s
(my maternal Grandfather's family) with my Mom upfront.
met in person before.  I know that these connections will be of different kinds. Some will fall into fitting easily, and some requiring listening, patience, and an open heart.  But isn’t that what family is about in the first place?

It is truly said that there is the family you were born with, and then there is the family you choose.  The person is blessed who can have the best of both.  So to all my cousins near and far: I accept you as well as choose you.  

And God have mercy on us all.  *smiles*


Dedicated to my sister Maura Cullen, and all my cousins: Barbara Stoddard, Richard Rockwell, Fran Klinger, Denzil Luckritz, Diane Zech, Betsey Goodfellow, Fred Luckrtiz, Mel Stoddard, Patty Wigington, Phil Luckritz, Jenny Stoddard Bredice, Rod Luckritz, Ben Luckritz, Charlene Clark, and all the rest listed or not, known or yet to be met.

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