By Joanne Padley
There is a saying that “cousins are our first friends in life.” In my case, this is certainly true. From the moment we were born, we cousins were immersed into our family, feeling more like siblings than cousins.
We spent every weekend together, as well as every occasion that called for celebrating. In our large Polish family, children were never excluded from anything, including weddings and funerals.
Our parents socialized primarily with each other, as did we. Life outside the umbrella of family did not exist for us until we were much older and began to drift apart, forming our own lives and relationships.
I received an invitation from my cousin Alice recently to a “Cousins Gathering” to be held at her home. My heart literally leapt for joy! I could not have been more thrilled had I been invited to a president’s inauguration.
I don’t often see my cousins anymore, and our numbers are fewer now, but they are never far from my thoughts. Thinking of my cousins evokes treasured memories that have been tucked away in the corners of my mind, and only brought to the surface in special circumstances.
Some are good and some are bad, but all need to be considered from time to time. Their relevance to our past, present and future on this earth is revealed in delicate fragments in time, to be pondered and savored as testament to our very existence as a family.
When we cousins meet now, as adults in our 50s, 60s and 70s, I imagine we will share the obligatory news of our lives – jobs, children, grandchildren, etc. We will rejoice for each other’s happy news and comfort those who share sad news, as any old friends would do.
But here’s what else I hope for. I hope that in the safety of our closed circle that night, we can release ourselves to the sanctity of the occasion and let ourselves become once again those children who shared everything, who had secrets that were kept within the boundaries of family (as most families do).
I hope that we can really talk through what, as children, we may not ever have fully understood – the things about our family and ourselves that made us feel blessed or different, depending on the circumstances.
As children, late at night at family gatherings, we would often lie in the dark, five or six across a bed, whispering our deepest thoughts to each other, listening to our parents’ chatter and laughter, and usually falling asleep at some point, sheltered and safe in the knowledge that we could weather all storms together. This is what I hope to feel again.
And perhaps that night we will sense our fallen family members among us, smiling and nodding in agreement with each other that their work is done now. Another generation has captured and preserved the family love that they instilled in us as children.
That love is carefully gift wrapped in boxes of memories, crystalline in their brilliance, their edges smoothed and softened by time and fading eyesight, as we enter the final chapter of our own lives.
We can offer a toast to those who have left us, a tribute to their very impact on our lives.
And then we will eat, drink, laugh, cry and memorialize our relationship with love. For this is what cousins do.
As author Marion Garretty said: “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”