As I get older and life changes and I feel increasingly sentimental, my mind stops me sometimes in the middle of what I’m doing and gives me a slideshow of memories from my childhood. So many of them are filled with my cousins.
When my granddaddy on my mom’s side passed away in 2011, he had 36 grandchildren and 48 great-grandchildren. There have been many, many more since then. Our family is so big that the saying goes “there are always 3 people pregnant at the same time.” When you find out one person is pregnant, you start guessing who the other 2 will be. My dad’s side of the family is smaller in comparison, but each family member on both sides adds to who we are collectively and as individuals. Simply put, cousins are special. They help to shape our lives.
I can remember being a little kid at my Aunt Mary’s house and waiting to see if Marvin’s goat would really eat anything. Marvin and Daniel in the yard at mom’s with a turtle. I remember so many holiday cookouts, gingerbread houses, church meals, bible study summer nights, hog killings, shucking corn, shelling peas in the swing. Mom pulling me in a little wagon at Aunt Doris’ eating bologna sandwiches and finding ladybugs while they were working in the field. I remember my Aunt Nancy letting some of us spend the night when I was young and how special I felt. I’m sure my mom appreciated that too, now that I can reflect back as a parent myself. I remember watching Dirty Dancing, playing Barbie dolls, and eating at the kitchen table with my cousin Amanda. I remember feeling as welcome at her house as I did in my own. And right next door, swimming with my cousins and my Aunt Lisa in her pool and across the road and down the path, swimming at my Aunt Linda Lou’s. I remember family reunions at Uncle Wallace and Aunt Joyce’s place. As soon as mom would turn off the road in that blue car I felt something special. Such a beautiful place. I couldn’t wait to see the river through the trees. I guess I just thought mostly about the fun. I didn’t know my mind was etching it all in place, and that it would come to the front of my memories so many times throughout the years. When people make you feel special, you don’t forget it.
I remember road trips to Greensboro with Uncle Mark and Aunt Lisa to see my great aunt Mary; the start of a special relationship I had with her and my great uncle Thomas and their children. I can remember my cousin Jamie always being around, like another older brother, and Angela and Anna being there with my sister and I. I have some vague memory of a motorcycle, maybe that was the day I wrecked it into a bush. I remember farting contests when we should have been sleeping (you know who you are) and somebody eating ketchup on macaroni. I remember Brittney Spears’ Toxic on the radio, bumping along with my little cousins, singing and laughing. When I was older, I can’t even remember the age, I worked on my brother’s commercial fishing boat in the summer with my cousin Nathan. I was older, but Lord knows Nathan had more skill, and we made a good team. I can remember being at all of my aunts and uncles houses on both sides of my family as a kid, and I think about how rare that is with such a big family, to have all these wonderful memories, to have a family that wanted us to grow up knowing, appreciating, and loving each other.
I remember being on my grandparents front porch in the dark, some of us counting while others hid. Talk about fun – that was the definition of it. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock, four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock rock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock rock, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock…Midnight!!! We would race back to the base, the safety of the porch, before we could be discovered and tagged. I remember the front room of my grandparents house stacked to the ceiling with gifts at Christmas. They were all small things, but it was big excitement to a child and we always planned out where we were going to sit. I remember walking into that house, sweet potatoes baking in the oven, my granddaddy sitting at the kitchen table alone after my grandma had passed. An aunt or uncle or cousin was always sure to walk through the door while we were there.
I remember my bridal shower, the food my aunts prepared for my wedding reception, my baby shower, birthday parties, and more. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Every aunt has their special dish and everyone is waiting for them to get there; like Mary’s macaroni and cheese, Dora’s chicken salad, Lessie’s spaghetti, Doris’ butterbeans and corn and fudge, Joy’s sausage balls and ham, Glenda’s lasagna, mom’s deviled eggs, Linda Lou’s fried chicken (homemade not KFC like I’d show up with), Lisa’s chocolate éclair, Nancy’s strawberry shortcake, and somebody brings chicken pot pie and homemade ice cream varieties and a hundred other things. My mom and Linda Lou laughing because they showed up with the same dessert out of everything in the world they could have made. We hit the jackpot on family get togethers. I will never forget these memories, no matter how old or how busy I am.
Younger cousins are so special and fun and sweet, the ones the same age as you are become your friends, and the older cousins are the ones you idealize. In such a big family we don’t always see each other as much as we did when we were small. It’s tough to keep up with what goes on in your own house, let alone all the houses of everyone else. But every now and then, when I’m washing dishes or watching my own kids play, I feel a longing to see my family and all of my cousins. They remind me of those we have lost, grandparents, aunts and uncles, even a few cousins. They remind me of the meaning of family. They remind me that we don’t call on each other but we can, and maybe we should more often. I love my cousins. I am always cheering for them. I am always praying for the happiness and success of their families.
Cousin doesn’t feel like enough of a word as I write this to explain what these relationships mean. Cousins are first friends. Cousins grow up to carry on the legacies of the aunts and uncles we adore our entire lives. Cousins help the hard changes in life become a bit more bearable, and cousins love us at every turn. Cousins are childhood magic.