My paternal grandparents had 24 grandchildren. My maternal grandparents had 7 grandchildren. (Or 8? Depending on how one viewed it. I never met the 8th one in any event.) I have one brother, so that means I have 27 first cousins. That is nothing for some people, but it seemed quite a lot when I was growing up.
These first cousins span currently span ages from 18 years old to 55-ish. (An interesting note is that the oldest and youngest are from the same sibling of my father.) Although there is a giant age range, most of them are close to my age or older (up to 12ish years older).
On my father’s side of the family, the cousins I saw the most when I was really little were the oldest ones because those uncles/aunts were significantly older than my parents and well-established in life. My parents were poor, and my dad’s generous siblings had us over all the time for food and entertainment. Those cousins were idolized by me. Most were in high school or beyond in those days before I was even in school, but I fondly remember some of the things they did with me. (Not-so-fondly I still have a scar from my leg touching the exhaust pipe while riding behind one of my cousins on his motorcycle. Come to think of it, I have no idea why my parents even allowed that!)
As I got older, my paternal cousins changed. My oldest uncle divorced, remarried and adopted his new wife’s three children. This new generation of cousins was closer to my age, and OH, how much fun my brother and I had playing with them. My uncle by this time had a swimming pool and acres of land. There was nothing more fun than going to their house.
When I played with my cousins, we always paired up or had teams. There was always an odd number, and someone was always left out and probably offended. That person was never me! When the boys played with the boys and the girls played with the girls, I was fine because there were only two girls. When we all played together I was fine because being the cousin instead of the sister, I was a novelty to the boys who sometimes fought to be paired with me in whatever we played.
I remember sitting at home and hearing my parents say the smallest thing that might indicate a visit to a cousin’s, house. My brother and I would exhange excited glances. Our ears would prick up for further information. Our bodies were on edge as our nerves were hoping against hope we could go play with our cousins.
On my mother’s side of the family things were a little different. I will not go into that in detail here because I did quite a bit in this post. What I will say is that neither my brother nor I were as excited to go visit those cousins, but it was not the fault of the cousins as much as it was the family rift that made it so unpleasant to be there. When we got there, we had fun with those cousins. There was always a price to pay, however, so we would dread it until we actually got there.
My other maternal cousins were about ten years younger than me, and they lived in another country; we saw them about every three years. I used to really love it when they came because they probably idolized me the same way I had idolized my older cousins when I was little, and they were novel. Although they were from the same family from where came all the misery in our lives, they were far removed and not like that–at least then.
So now I am grown up, and it is interesting to me to know to which cousins I am now closest and are “my favorites.” It is not my childhood favorites, for sure! Most of my oldest cousins went their own ways and care very little what happens to me. That is not true for all of them, but most. My younger cousins from another country now live in the United States, but they do not make the “favorite” cut, either. In fact, I am mostly of a mind that I do not care if I ever talk to them again. (Hopefully I will cover some of this later, but now is not the time.)
The cousins that mean the most to me now are the ones about whom I was most ambivalent in childhood. They have been the loyal ones. They suffered through the same family (but in a much worse way than I did). They understand why I would not go to my grandmother’s funeral (and why we will all go to their step-mother’s funeral wearing party clothes). They have always loved me. Even when we were little and I KNOW I could have been nicer, they loved me. Maybe then it was because I represented something so far from their own lives that they could only dream about it, but they could have resented me for that. (I have had plenty of friends who have resented my seemingly charmed life.) Not only did they never resent me, but they have stood with me in my own troubles. They have never judged me for the problems that have come my way or for my viewpoints that may not be like their own. (Though most of our viewpoints are amazingly similar–probably due to the unbelievable stupidity around/in which we were raised. I was raised witnessing it; they were raised in the midst of it.) And they are even nice, EXTRA nice to Prince Charming even though there could not be found on this planet more polar opposites politically! They are almost the sisters I never had. I say “almost” because they are sisters themselves, and I can never be to them exactly what they are to each other, but they are to me what I imagine sisters would be.
Something else about these cousins is that they are not my flesh and blood; they were adopted into my family. Their wicked step-mother was my aunt. (I have always thought she adopted them because my father’s brother adopted children from a later marriage. She was always trying to keep up with people who were esteemed in some circles.) I would not even bring this up, but recently there was a question about why we were so close, and our children are so close, when we are “not blood.” To me this is a ludicrous question, but the answer, given by one of them was, “Because we grew up together!” To me it is more than that. I grew up with other cousins, too. But the three of us had shared experiences that were often unpleasant (definitely more so for them than me), and the three of us have a strength of character that maybe not all the other cousins have. The trials brought us together, gave us solidarity and gave us love and understanding for one another.
Now our kids are the best of friends whenever they are together, but thankfully without all the tenseness, struggles and abuse that we had. Maybe it is the word “cousins” that makes people close, not blood.
Note: The title of this post has been in my head for weeks. It was originally meant to be about my children and their cousins, and how although they do not live near any of their cousins, when they get together, they act as if they are best friends and have the best times. My kids play well with most kids, but it is different with their cousins; it is magic. (I was also going to briefly discuss 2nd and 3rd cousins and “removed’s.”) But when I started typing, the story above came out. I do not know why; it must have been meant to be.
And another note: All the river pictures were taken mid-December when we visited Arizona. It was not exactly warm, but it was nice!