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Growing up was a magical time.
And growing up with cousins – that made it even more magical. We had a large, extended family. On one side, when we were together there were sixteen cousins. Two amazing cousins on the other side of the family. My cousins were my best friends, they were my confidants, they were playmates. I loved them fiercely. Still do. I’m sure that many, if not most of my “firsts” were with my cousins.
We gathered for secret meetings under willow trees & made “forts” beneath front porches.
We placed folding chairs in semi circles at backyard picnics. There was always kielbasa on the hibachi, and afternoons spent at the Knights of Columbus with the smell of kapusta overtaking the room. Many of us even watched the original Star Wars together. We produced plays that our parents painstakingly watched. I looked up to Joanie like she was a superstar. She really is.
We took over whatever house, in whatever state we happened to be in and filled the space between the walls with laughter and love. We enjoyed each other while our parents played poker down the hall, or had drinks around the campfire.
You share everything.
We shared bunny cakes, pierogies, and more board games than I could list. We camped together, talked about boys for the first time together, held rock sales (yes, we did actually sell some rocks), and broke bread over campfires and beautifully set tables alike.
There were no cell phones. When you were there, you were there. Communions, birthdays, graduations, you name it. Any occasion was a reason to get together. Saturday was a reason to get together. We attended mass together, we broke bread, we celebrated and cheered each other on.
We grew older.
As we started to grow older, it was more difficult to get together, but we still managed it. Our families saw to that. We sang together, hell, we even drank together. Graduations and weddings came along. We would get caught up, we’d laugh, we’d love, and it never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be together. Until we weren’t.
Some of us stayed closer together, some of us drifted apart completely.
There were years between growing up and growing back together.
I feel like so many years that we’ll never get back were missed, while at the same time, I feel so blessed to still be so close in many ways. My oldest cousin passes down her son’s clothes to my little guy, we get together to go see the family musician play at local Irish festivals, and I have as many big, messy, family dinners at my house as often as I can. Everyone is welcome. Inevitably we laugh, we remember, we promise to get together more.
We have mourned together.
Losing John when we were all so young was incredibly difficult. The pain of this loss still hurts. We clung to each other – literally. We tried so hard to understand. And now, another cousin has passed. Scott passed recently and the pain was different for me. I could understand it more clearly. I could sense my own mortality in his passing. And regardless that he’d probably say to me “it’s all good, J”, my whole heart longs for decisions that would have led to spending more time with him.
I wouldn’t change how I grew up for anything.
Being part of a large extended family has made me who I am today. My son’s cousins are mostly older. The ones that aren’t are too far away to get together regularly. He won’t have the same experience I did growing up, but I try to bring whomever I can together whenever I can so he can be surrounded by the love of these wonderful people I call family. These people that I took for granted growing up. The ones that I let life get in the way of when I was finding my own way in the world.
Here’s to our cousins. Our first friends, our first teachers, and the ones we love the most. There really isn’t anything like the love of cousins.
xoxo – JJ