Pinch of Faith: Cousins, bound by blood, connected by shared memories

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Bound by blood, connected by shared memories and an important part of our lives, our cousins hold a special place in our hearts forever.  

We are told, in the Bible, that Mary shared the news of her pregnancy with her beloved cousin, Elizabeth, and that reinforces the importance of the love between cousins. Being an only child for the first 11 years of my life, I longed for siblings. Unable to comply with my repeated requests for a “baby sister or brother,” despite five miscarriages, my parents encouraged my interactions with my cousins. 

There were nine of us first cousins in my father’s family and six in my mother’s. I was third in line among Daddy’s group and the eldest of my Mama’s. Every weekend I would spend Saturdays at the home of my maternal grandparents where I first learned to make Kool-Aid® and peanut butter sandwiches.  

On Sunday, we had a big home cooked Italian dinner and togetherness with the other side of the family.  Because the weekdays were filled with school activities, homework and playing with the neighborhood children, those family weekends were always met with great delight and eager anticipation.

Papa and Grandma built a big concrete swimming pool on their acreage located outside the city limits, and it was a treat every summer to splash around with the other six grandchildren who were young enough to enjoy it. There was plenty of space to play hide and seek and catch lightning bugs in their expansive yard, and we did plenty of both.  

The older two granddaughters were already in high school and involved in dating and beyond the desire to be around “the little kids.” I, however, doted on watching them get dressed for parties and dances and longed for the day that I could be one of the big girls just like them.

While Daddy’s family all lived close to each other, Mama’s were a bit further spread out. Pop and Grammie lived in the city with sidewalks for roller skating and hopscotch and shady front porches that were ideal for playing lengthy board games. As the eldest, it often was my responsibility to entertain the younger cousins with riddles and teaching them life skills, like playing pick-up sticks and jacks.

Every Christmas Day, Daddy’s family would feast on Grandma’s ravioli and attack the mountain of colorfully wrapped packages beneath the decorated tree. In the evening, there was always an open house at my parents with various aunts, uncles, cousins and extended family sampling country ham on biscuits, spice round and my mother’s traditional jam cake. When I was finally deemed old enough to date, I had an audience of admiring younger cousins watching me get dressed to go out. I knew how envious they were as I had once been in their spot.

I had a dear friend whose affinity for determining “second cousins once removed” and other intricate familial relationships confused and delighted me. She would draw diagrams and go down the list of names provided and explain the exact connection. Unfortunately, she took this gift on to heaven with her where she joined throngs of her own cousins. I get a headache when I try to recreate her charts.

My mother and her second cousin were as close as sisters. They were like two peas in a pod and both outrageously blunt and hysterically funny if you were not their offspring. When my mother married my father, they introduced Mama’s cousin to Daddy’s first cousin, and it was love at first sight. 

I always called them my aunt and uncle and their three children, and my brother and I figured out that we were double cousins to some close degree. To this day, there is an undeniable connection between us that neither time nor distance can break. I presume that we are, as commonly known in the South, “kissing cousins,” a term used to define cousins that we greet with a welcome kiss each time we meet.

Now that I have the distinct position on both sides of the family as the matriarch, my relationships with subsequent generations of cousins grow even more dear to my heart. I try to pass along photographs and memories of bygone days and if I embellish some of these tales somewhat, I take comfort in the knowledge that there is no one who can dispute what I say now.

I like to tell them this anonymous quote, “Everyone has that one really strange cousin.  If you don’t know who that is…it’s probably you!” 

Copyright ©2023 Mary Margaret Lambert

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