“Cousins are a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
—Marion C. Garretty
I learned last week that one of my aunts on my father’s side of the family died. The information came from my cousin Jerry, via my brother, whose e-mail was the only one Jerry had. My sisters and I wrote back to Jerry’s group email, as did other cousins. It took the passing of Aunt Alice, the last of our parents’ generation, to bring us back together.
As a child, I used to spend a week every summer at my cousin Janet’s house in Mountain View, California. She lived in an apricot orchard on El Camino Real (yes, there were orchards there then) and between her house and the road were flats of halved apricots drying in the sun. My grandparents lived next door in a house I thought was a palace (it had TWO bathrooms!). It was all very exotic compared to our little house in a new post-war development in Stockton.
When I was a kid, the family gatherings were the fun times. I don’t remember being a particularly happy child otherwise. I am the oldest child and felt a great weight of responsibility and, of course, there was the psychological damage inflicted by the nuns at Catholic school—but I digress. Let’s just agree that I thought my life was grim and now I understand that even then I was making up stories in my head. Here’s an alternative view of my family life from two cousins’ letters that made me rethink those days:
From my cousin Janet: It’s fun to reconnect with everyone, especially you. I loved going out to visit you and your lovely family as a kid. Living in our house, in the orchard, I was so isolated socially. And…your house always had so much fun stuff happening.
And my cousin Katie: My memory of Uncle Vince and Aunt Doreen and all you kids was that it was like watching a Doris Day movie. There was nothing better than going to visit you. It was summer camp, pure joy–everybody fit in, could relax and play, laugh out loud, and most of all—unrehearsed, with no fear, no one to worry about pleasing or being concerned with propriety.
What really struck me during the flurry of notes is that my cousins are like other close friends who, though we’ve been apart for years, instantly connect as if no time has passed. They were never lost, just missing for a while.