The Minto girls were more like sisters than cousins growing up. They shared everything – their family, their history, their homes, and as much free time as they could glean.
But when they got older, got married and started families, they began to drift apart.
To keep the family closely knit, they formed “The Cousins Club,” a monthly meeting where all the first-generation, female cousins in the family would get together, away from their husbands and children, unwind and catch up.
But the Cousins Club gatherings conserved more than just family bonds. They ended up being a great way for the women to conserve money, too. And not just because the potluck parties were a frugal form of entertainment.
Each month, the women brought clothes their children had outgrown. The cousins would pick through the hand-me-downs and take what would fit the kids they had at home. As the next cycle of kids outgrew them, the clothes would make their way back to Cousins Club and get exchanged again. Once all the babies were grown, infant clothes got passed on to the younger girls to be used for their dolls.
The cousins started bringing toys, dish towels, furniture and other home goods. The swaps became a bigger focal point of their gatherings.
Even though children were not allowed to attend, kids in the family loved Cousins Club, too. As soon as they woke in the morning, they would leap to ask their mothers what new goodies they had brought home from the previous night’s swap.
As the family grew, so did the number of people at their meetings. You were eligible for entry once you had your first child. The rules were only bent once for a cousin who married but never had children. At one point, there were more than 40 members. Pretty soon, a visit to the Cousin’s Club was like shopping in someone’s living room.
They shared money-saving tips and tricks, too. They taught each other how to make slipcovers for threadbare chairs and sofas. A member learned how to fix cars. Another learned how to refinish furniture. One cousin even acted as the family’s barber and cut everyone’s hair.
More than half a century later, those cousins are still meeting. There are only a handful of the original ones left. They don’t get together as often as they used to and it’s harder for them to get around.
“You would think we pushed that car here,” one of them said, out of breath, after trekking from the car, up the stairs and into the house to one meeting.
Still, they’re as lively as ever. I was fortunate enough to sit in with the club recently. There was food, there was laughter, there was reminiscing, and there was still plenty of swapping. These days, the ladies – all in their 80s and 90s – mostly trade books and jigsaw puzzles.
Some of the things they swapped all those years ago are still going strong, too. In fact, there’s a dining set that has passed through three different generations and is still being used today.
But of all the benefits, one particular aspect of the Cousins Club saved the women more money than any other – probably tens of thousands of dollars, estimates cousin Kyle Parksinson.
“None of us has ever had to pay for a psychiatrist,” she said.
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