My mother was one of 14 children. There were 5 girls and 7 boys plus one boy and one girl that died as infants. I have cousins upon cousins upon cousins. I was counting them last weekend at my brother’s wedding with one of those cousins and we came up with 47 though I’m not sure we got that number right. I am one of the youngest (there are 4 younger than me).
In my early years coming from a big family for me meant uncles around every corner teasing me playfully asking if they were my favorite and when I told them yes, the next uncle asking me the same (of course I said yes to him too). It meant lots of love to go around and loud parties with fun loving aunts and uncles and lots and lots of older cousins to look up to or feel shy around. It meant not really knowing some of my cousins.
I loved to listen to my parents and aunts and uncles talk, especially when they forgot I was there. It seemed in those years that all my cousins had a cousin just their age to hang out with, except me. I often stuck close to my mom and visited with the adults instead. Costume parties, 4th of July parties, camping, being from a big family meant built in community.
Aside from the fun, coming from a big family has also meant an inescapable experience with death. Aunts, Uncles, my nana, my mother, more Aunts, and Uncles… and this month my cousin Steven and my Uncle John…
I’ve been silent about it really. I just haven’t known what to say. All around me here in Vermont it is bursting with autumn, trees decked out in brilliant oranges, yellows and reds -pure celebration. The trees will soon look like sticks and we will still be here and my cousin and uncle are somewhere new.
I remember Uncle John’s kindness and how he could talk backwards, yes backwards just as well as when he talked forwards, and how he visited me in my first apartment shortly after my mother died. He shared stories of my mom when she was a little girl. It was such a balm for my soul hearing those stories and seeing through them how much he loved his baby sister and her daughter.
And I am so very thankful for the one good conversation I ever had with cousin Steven last year at our “cousins party” (thank you Mark and Kristen for hosting that). Steven was a good amount older than me and I didn’t see him much through the years, I always remembered how very very tall he was, but more importantly that he had a kind smile.
It’s harder now to make it to funerals with a big family of my own and not living around the corner anymore. But my heart will always be with my aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins, they are as brilliant as these fall colors in my memory and in my heart.
Till we meet again Uncle John, cousin Steven, Aunt Jackie, Mom, Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Leo, Uncle Bill, Uncle Fred, Uncle Buddy, Aunt Martha, Aunt Bea and Uncle Stan, Nana, and all the family who died before I was born. What a party there must be in heaven today!
Thank you God for placing me in this big loving family tree, where neither distance nor death can still the love we share.
With love from Vermont…