November 11, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s great when we’re literally kissing cousins in families

Cynthia DewesCousins are important, if secondary, members of our family. The primary ones, of course, are our spouses, parents and children. But cousins show up in genealogies and history books and other important official stuff, so we know they matter.

Some folks have very few cousins, or none. Some hardly know their cousins, if at all, and so have no real relationship to them. These people are to be pitied, I think, because they are missing out on some great family memories. Of course, since I am an “only,” my cousins are like the sisters and brothers I never had.

I’m grateful that my dad’s family is not only huge but close. My dad, the oldest, was 20 years older than his youngest brother. So I am downright filial with the 41 first cousins on his side. Actually, I probably know only half that number very well, because some of them are younger than my own kids.

At our annual family reunion, youngsters will come up to me and say, “I’m so-and-so’s child” because they know I have no clue to their identity. But they know who I am because I’m the second-oldest cousin, one of those old guys up there with our two really elderly aunties. Up here in the stratosphere, so to speak, we don’t even need name tags.

Now, my “sister and brother cousins” come in as many varieties as any group of real siblings. As I said, there’s the wide range in age, but in many other ways as well.

One cousin is a long-distance trucker who travels across the northern Midwest. One is an internationally-known microbiologist, who has a lab at Cornell where he does research on Lord-knows-what. Several are teachers, including one Ph.D. Two or three others are also nurses.

Two cousins are steelworkers, who climb around on spidery construction sites high above the ground. One of them had a bad accident once, and now he works on the ground, a wise decision it seems to me. Still another cousin was the state historian of Iowa before he retired.

Other cousins are farmers, managers, office workers and salespeople. Whatever their professions, they seem to do well and are satisfied with their work. They help support their families, educate their children and generally set them on a successful path through life. Most attend church regularly, and few are divorced.

They do like to drink, however, and enjoy a lively social life. It began with Grandpa taking his farm family to town for the Saturday night outing. While he and “the boys” visited the saloon, the ladies would shop and the kids would watch the free outdoor movie displayed on the wall of a building. Everyone went home happy, but safe.

This family is neither unique nor especially gifted, but they represent the typical immigrant desire to prevail in a new country and a new life. When they came here from Norway, they spoke no English and had to farm a poor acreage to make a living. But they trusted in God’s love, worked hard and inspired their kids to do the same.

I like to think of my cousins and our family as a microcosm of God’s family. We’re all different, but we’re all made in God’s image and likeness. And if we keep on trusting in God’s love and working hard and valuing family, we’ll stay on the right path.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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