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Who are these people anyway?

As usual, the afternoon leading up to Wednesday night's fireworks was anything but calm. It's always that way when my relatives get together -- the aunts, cousins, grandmothers, mothers, grand nieces, spouses and others who make up the cast of characters on my mother's side of the family.

We were at my cousin's house, but don't ask me WHICH cousin because my head is still spinning from the debate du jour: Who is what to whom?

First cousin, once removed? Second cousin? Second cousin, twice removed?

These are people familiar enough to know each other's shoe sizes, but bring up this family relationship terminology and confusion reigns.

Nor is it easy to figure it all out when everyone is talking at once -- loudly. Everyone thinks she is right, of course.

Notice I say "she." That is because the males in the crowd -- spouses, including mine -- remained silent on the subject, being the smart men they are.

At one point, one of the women -- my mother's first cousin and I am certain of that -- looked at my husband and said: "And who are you? My cousin-in-law?"

Perhaps my husband was thinking that he would prefer to be twice removed from the entire scene. At the very least, I'm sure he was thanking his lucky stars that he is only related to these people by marriage.

Part of the problem, too, is that you do not have to be an official niece or nephew of someone to call them Aunt or Uncle in my family. My first cousin's children have called me Aunt Susie from the get-go, even though I really am not their aunt.

Also, in my family, some women are Aunt, others are Auntie. I guess it depends on their name. Aunt Nancy. Aunt Joan. Auntie Carol. Aunt Sally. Auntie Lois.

Aunt Lois? Never.

Adding to the confusion, too, is that no one calls anyone by the correct name.

Ginger and Pepper are two names that all of us have been called by our elders through the years, but these are not even the names of people. They are the names of dogs.

Anyway, at one point during the July 4 debate, I volunteered to research the whole matter and get back to everyone.

"That's right. Ask JEEVES!," shouted my mother's first cousin.

She was referring to the popular search engine on the Internet, of course, which is something I did Thursday morning. explained things this way:

Your first cousins are the people in your family who have two of the same grandparents as you (they are the children of your aunts and uncles).

Your second cousins have the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents.

As for all that "once removed" talk, the term means that there is a difference of one generation.

For example, your mother's first cousin is your first cousin, once removed.

As for "twice removed"? That means there is a two-generation difference. "You are two generations younger than a first cousin of your grandmother, so you and your grandmother's first cousin are first cousins, twice removed," tells me.

I could make copies of all this for my relatives and even come up with a nifty chart spelling it out.

That would clear things up for certain, but what fun would that be?

Listening to the debate is so much more interesting. If you don't believe me, ask Ginger.


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