Anita, Meredith, Mary Beth
In our very large extended family, cousins abounded. Mama had three siblings and Daddy had seven, so we had more cousins than we could count. While most of my cousins were much older than I, we have still stayed connected through the years, at least on some occasional level. But there are a few cousins I see somewhat regularly, and we never seem to run out of things to talk about.
My sister and I had the opportunity recently to visit briefly with the two daughters of one of our cousins, now deceased. And this week, we had the privilege of hanging out with a couple of our other favorite cousins. Meredith, who lives in Oregon, was in Texas for some family events and not only made the time, but rented a car and drove over 300 miles to spend some quality time with us. We included Anita, who traveled a mere 120 miles to make it a foursome. And my sister came straight out of cataract surgery to be part of the fun.
The four of us spent about six hours, talking nonstop and laughing abundantly. Much of what we discussed revolved around childhood memories of family times together. You see, all of our dads were brothers, and even though distance sometimes separated them, they were inseparable at heart. Some of what we marveled about was how well the siblings all got along together; they and their spouses genuinely enjoyed spending time together, and made every opportunity to do so. My sister and I were fortunate to live within 30 miles of three of our uncles, and those four families regularly got together for Sunday dinner, backyard cookouts, and swapping stories. And swap stories they did!
One of my favorite memories was when the brothers told stories ~ and they and their sister were ALL master storytellers. A typical gathering would go like this ~
Sunday morning: my mother puts a roast in the oven, and we all leave for church. After church, we rush home and while Mama finishes the meal preparation, we all go into “help” mode and put a leaf in the table, set out silverware and plates, fill glasses with ice for the tea, and in minutes the door opens and in walks an uncle and aunt and two cousins.
Our small house is immediately filled with talking, laughter, and teasing, along with exclamations of how good the food smells. My aunt brings in her contribution to the meal: a coconut pie with homemade pie crust. Right away, we all gather in the tiny kitchen, which somehow has room for a table and enough chairs around it to seat 8 people! Daddy asks his brother to give thanks for the food, then we all begin helping ourselves to the bounty. The conversation flows back and forth, including exclamations about the delicious meal. Mama jumps up to refill tea glasses or get more homemade rolls from the oven. Finally, everyone is finished eating—but wait, there’s more! We all stack our plates and pass them to the person closest to the kitchen sink while Mama slices my aunt’s pie and the chocolate cake she made, and everyone makes their choice. My sister and I pass the dessert plates around the table while Daddy gets the tea pitcher and passes it around one more time. Despite the fact that no one was really still hungry after the main meal, we dive into the dessert with great gusto, amidst groans of “I am so stuffed!” But we eat it anyway and make appropriate comments to the two great cooks in our midst.
As the dessert is finished, the real fun begins. Everyone pushes back a bit, and the stories begin to flow. Dad and his brothers do not tell their reminiscences with “Remember the time we . . .” but rather start their stories as if it is the first recounting.
“There was an old man who lived south of town, and one day he . . .”
“One time, Clyde was carrying the mail out on the route, and we had this big snow storm one day and . . .”
“Oran was always nervous—just scared of his shadow—and one night he . . .”
Those are the stories that make the rounds.
You can always tell when an epic tale is about to begin. We have each heard the story multiple times in our lifetime, so we know the punch line, we know almost word-for-word what is coming—and yet we all listen intently, waiting for the clincher, ready with the laughter and comments as the story unfolds. Each of the brothers leans back and laughs, enjoying the tale as if for the first time—and as a child, so do I. Even though we are sitting in a cramped kitchen, near a sink piled with dirty dishes, no one seems in a hurry to leave. Even we youngsters don’t jump up immediately to go play. We wait for the stories to develop, hanging on every word, laughing at all the right places and watching with delight as our parents regale themselves with memories of growing up in the first half of the 20th Century.
Eventually, the men get up from the table and move into the living room to continue their conversation. The two wives wash and dry the dishes, having a sister-in-law moment to talk about the recipe for the cake, what the girls are doing in school, and where they found the material for the cute curtains in the kitchen window. We four girls leave the table and head for the back of the house. I don’t usually have a cousin my own age around, so I am forced to tag along with my sister and the older cousins, but they are usually willing to include me. We talk or play for two or three hours until time for the relatives to go home, and we all hug goodbye and they leave to drive back home before Sunday night church.
By today’s social standards, it sounds boring and lame. But as we four cousins talked this week, these were the times we all remembered with such fondness. We all treasure those times with family ~ listening to stories, relishing meals together, teasing one another, and lots of laughter. We were creating memories out of the everyday stuff of life, and all of us marveled at the power of those very simple times we shared.
Today, I am grateful for my cousins. My parents and all of the aunts and uncles are gone now. But they would be so pleased to know that their children still love each other and enjoy being together ~ not only telling their own stories, but recapping the ones they learned long ago.