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Day 3: C is for Cousins

April 3, 2015








Growing up, I didn’t have girl cousins for quite awhile.  In fact, since my mother and father only had one sibling each, we didn’t have a huge extended family anyway.  Because I have four sisters, however, my own children and theirs have hit the cousin jackpot.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the nuances of kinship.  I didn’t figure out the principles of “third cousins, once removed,” until we had a guest speaker at school whose name was Edgar Allan Poe. He was able to explain the principles as he traced his own kinship to the famous author.  Over the years, I have accumulated a treasure trove of cousins this way.

From the time I was a little girl, I idolized Christy and Cathy, my mother’s first cousins, hence my first cousins, once removed. One of my favorite pictures has the two of them standing beside a chair where little baby me sits between their two baby dolls of the same size.  They were just old enough for me to adore them. When my sister Amy and I played make believe, we often pretended we were Christy and Cathy.  As we’ve gotten older, I see that weird principle of aging that makes people closer to the same age.  Five or ten years is a huge difference in childhood, but barely worth noticing in adults.  Now, even though we live states apart, we are able to keep up, to share pictures of our children and grandchildren, as well as old pictures we uncover of our grandparents.

My next cousin discovery was a teaching colleague.  In the small school where I began my teaching career, I covered all sophomore and seniors; Karen taught seventh and eighth grade, as well as art.  We were able to travel together to the NCTE conferences several years in a row, allowing us to bond over books and food and museums.  We hadn’t spent much time together before teaching, but Karen’s maternal grandfather was a brother to my great grandmother.  In fact, when she found an old tattered quilt that their mother had made–weaving the backing herself and dying with walnuts–she brought me some pieces, which I framed for me and for my grandmother. Sharing interests as well as history cemented our cousinship.

The most serendipitous cousin discovery, though, occurred in Chicago (she remembers it as Atlanta) at another NCTE conference.  Standing in line for lunch, I struck up a conversation with the women beside me, and as our conversation naturally led to where we were from, I learned that she had family–no longer living–from my hometown.  Something made me persist, wanting to know who.  Putting two and two together, we realized that her grandfather, as a young widower, had married my great grandmother (the same one from Karen’s line).  My Mama and Papa Cheatham were Sandy’s Mama and Papa Cheatham.  That made us–well–first step cousins, once removed.

At least fifteen years have passed since our chance meeting, and Sandy and I keep in touch regularly.  I live in North Carolina, and she lives in New Mexico now, but she’s visited my home, and I’ve been to hers.  From the first conversation through each visit or phone call, we feel more and more like real cousins. We have taken writing classes online together; we are both participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and we email or call each other often.

We may not have spent Thanksgivings and Christmases together or competed in egg hunts, but I think we have this cousin thing working for us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2015 12:49 am

    You know I love your piece about cousins, and I’m so happy that you saved me for last. Let’s have a cousins’ reunion SOON!!

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