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The Other Side of the Family

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by Barbara Briggs Ward

The Other Side of the Family

For whatever reason, families are sometimes closer to one side than the other. I recently lost a cousin on my father’s side and the fact that we never really spent time with his relatives became blatantly obvious. While I lived but a few miles from this cousin, I never stopped to visit her. If I happened to see her in passing we would exchange pleasantries and go our separate ways so it didn’t come as a surprise that when she passed away, no one called. I found out when reading the local newspaper.

Growing up we lived out in the country surrounded by three other houses full of my mother’s side of the family. There were aunts, uncles, grandparents, cats, dogs, horses, and even an alligator at one point. We took turns hosting Sunday night dinner after which the adults would sit around and talk over coffee. In the summertime we’d bring our suppers together out underneath one aunt’s pine trees. Later, the younger kids would play a game of baseball.

Whenever there was a birthday, we’d celebrate it together. Leading up to Christmas we were inseparable. There’d be Cookie-baking Sunday, Christmas tree Sunday, and then, of course, Christmas Eve and Christmas. While I was aware of my father’s side of the family it never dawned on me that I really didn’t know them. After all, we did see them a few times during the year when my father took my brother and I down to his parents’ home situated on another country road. But looking back, I have only one memory of my father’s mother and it’s just a sliver of a moment.

I remember it was in the morning. My hair was in French braids and I was wearing shorts. I sat in the front seat of my father’s station wagon. My brother was in the back. When we pulled in the driveway, he jumped out and ran up the porch steps. I followed my father. I remember there was a screen door and when I shut it I turned around and noticed a fancy lace table cloth on the dining room table. I remember thinking how very beautiful it was with a fancy teapot sitting in the middle of it. That’s when my grandmother I never knew was by my side. I don’t remember seeing her face but I did get swept up in a hug smelling of talcum powder and cinnamon. That’s the only memory I have of that woman. With very few memories of that side of the family it’s no surprise that my generation grew even further apart.

That’s what I kept telling myself when walking up the steps of the funeral home to pay respects to my deceased cousin’s brother and son-the only remaining immediate relatives. I went early. I thought it’d be crowded so I could blend in and leave. But it wasn’t crowded. I signed in and walked through the archway. Moments later I discovered it didn’t matter that we hadn’t shared Sunday night dinners or suppers under pine trees or birthdays or holidays together. We were family. Family comes with endless definitions with endless traditions and make-up and interests.

My cousin and I needed no introduction. He looked the same to me as he had as a little boy the few times we visited. He lives far away now so it’s not as if I’d run in to him. Once we saw each other none of that stuff mattered. It was my cousin standing there crying with his arms open wide. I can’t say how long we embraced. I do know it was a long time. I cried so hard it hurt. Tears shed were not only for my cousin who’d passed away but for missed opportunities to get to know each other growing up. No one was to blame. That’s just how it was back then. I hope to keep in touch with my cousin who lives far away. I’ve invited my cousin’s son to supper. It’s never too late to get to know each other.

When my father’s mother passed away, she left me the lace tablecloth and fancy teapot. Maybe when that young man comes to supper I’ll set the table with that tablecloth and tell him about his great grandmother who smelled like talcum powder and cinnamon. At least, it’s a beginning. It’s never too late to build family memories.

Tags: boomers life changes family relationships nostalgia

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