The definition of “cousin” is: the child of your aunt or uncle. That would entail knowing either my mother’s or my father’s sisters or brothers. Never having met my father or anyone on his side of the family, that leaves him out. My mother had many siblings. In my early life, I met one of her brothers and three of her sisters…once.
I have no idea who their children are.
My three oldest sisters were pregnant at the same time my mother was expecting me. The same month of my birth, two nieces were born. Three months later I gained a nephew.
I grew up with my older sister’s and brother’s 13 children around me. I thought we were cousins.
At the age of five, the nephew three months younger than me wanted to climb a tree in the back yard. So I joined him. I’m sure I was a lovely sight venturing up the limbs of the tree with my dress on, but I rose to the challenge. Suddenly his foot and mine claimed the same “V” in the branches at the same time. We were stuck. We had to be rescued…pulling on our legs until one of us budged.
I spent a lot of time with one of the nieces born the same month as me. Pictures taken in the early 1940’s show us together at almost every family gathering. I was the one with the bows in my hair, one on each side of my head. She was the knocked-kneed one.
One vivid memory is of us scratching and biting each other in a wild fight. We ended up knocking a picture off the wall. The corner of the glass frame hit me on my elbow. Her father doctored me with something that looked like black tar and then sat us side by side against the wall to consider our behavior. I still carry the battle wound.
When I was 12, my older brother left me in charge of his three boys while he and his wife ran a lengthy errand. I placed a quilt on the front lawn for the baby and watched the other two as they played in the yard. After two hours, my brother returned to find his baby in the direct sun and turning pink. That baby is now a middle-aged, bald-headed man. When the family gathers, at least once the story must be told of why he is bald. I burned all his hair follicles.
Since two of my brother’s-in-law were amateur photographers, many pictures were taken of the family. We were arranged in all types of groups…all the women…all the men…each family group, etc. Then it was time for the picture of all the cousins. Since I thought I was one, I would run to join them as they posed. Some adult in the family would escort me from the group. I didn’t belong.
I looked like the cousins. I acted like the cousins. I was the same age as the cousins. Why wasn’t I one?
As I grew older, I began to understand that I was the “aunt”. But I sure felt like a “cousin”.
Then came the day that the cousins rebelled. They would not have their picture taken without me in it. All the explaining went unheeded. I was one of them!
In the midst of the pictures of the cousins, there is an imposter. The one with the bows on her head. But I had been accepted.
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