My childhood holidays and vacations were spent running around with my cousins—eating sugar, making up games, and staying up late. I remember one particular summer when the favorite game happened to be Truth or Dare. My cousin Paul had to bike around his cul-de-sac with his pants down. A feat I remember clearly because I still have a photo to prove it.
Coming back from our camping trips in Alaska my cousins and I would have the supreme pleasure of riding in the camper ALONE—meaning no adults—totally unsupervised. We would eat the pre-sugared Koolaid, chase it with soda, and top it off by finishing the leftover smore fixings. Then we would play card games and of course Truth or Dare. There wasn’t a lot you could do in a camper, and being related, so of course we had to take our pants down. The best dare involved throwing open the camper door and mooning the vehicle behind us. I never saw the driver’s faces, but to think on it now, if I were behind the wheel of my car and a small butt suddenly appeared in the camper ahead of me, it would elicit a smile, wide.
All told I have more than 25 cousins from three sides. We live now and have always, all over the world. Our current locations cover Croatia, England, Switzerland, Sudan, France, Minnesota, California, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, and Colorado. I know it sounds small minded of me but honestly sometimes I feel bad for people who don’t have as many cousins as I do.
These days I think of us like a woven hammock. There is space in between the weave— each of us creating our own daily brand of magic in whatever world location we find ourselves. And yet when we get together the bond is palpable. You can relax into it. There is no question that you are connected. You belong to one another. You might not know what makes the heart of each individual sing—in fact you might not even have that much in common in your day to day grind, but there is an unspoken link between you. You all understand that your Uncles say crazy things like “Back straight. Boobs out,” referring to improving your posture. Or that your grandmother used to say crass things like, “What do you want me to do, shit the money?” It’s weird. But you don’t care or feel the need to explain it.
Recently I was with the largest side of my family (my dad’s – who comes from 9 kids) for a weeklong family reunion in the land of 10,000 lakes otherwise known as Minnesota. We’re older now. So that means the party has grown. Many of us have spouses or significant others and some of us have kids. All told, we were 70.
Being together like that puts your life in perspective. You see how time passes. My cousin Paul (the naked bike rider) is now a father and an uncle. We both have our own tiny butts to care for. If we were in a camper together these days, we would be driving it, not playing in back.
And yet even as the time passes the fun doesn’t fade. As a 39 year old I can still say that my most fun moment at the reunion this summer came while jumping off boats and rocks with my cousins and siblings into a huge body of Minnesota fresh water love. Water logged and sun drenched I felt nothing but happiness to look over and see my cousin Cyrille and her man, who live in Croatia, treading water along side of me. Joy escaped when Paul, (heavily featured in this article, though there are many I love!) remembering a summer of our childhood, played the B-52’s Love Shack for me and made me dance on the table with my cousins, aunts and uncle’s alike. I appreciated being one of twenty players in one of many rousing games of spoons. And I loved singing my cousins good-bye– as is our tradition–when a person is forced to leave the game due to lack of a spoon.
The happiness and particular joy of being with family came into sudden perspective for me on one of our first nights together. It happened when I entered my cousin’s cabin and discovered that my two-year-old son was not asleep on my husband’s back as I had anticipated. He was still happily playing trucks with his cousin and first BFF, four-year-old Henry. After my initial thought of, “What was he (my husband) thinking?” I looked over to the kitchen table where the man in question was enjoying a raucous and cut-throat game of Uno with a dozen of my adult cousins, and back to the gaggle of tiny people (our kids) including my own son who were still happily milling around on the floor, and I thought—“This is what family is for. These are the moments that matter.” They can be few and far in between. They generally entail less sleep that usual. But when you look back over the span of your life, they are the ones that shine. And no matter who kicks your ass in Uno, what song you are singing, or what continent you are treading water in together, I wouldn’t trade these moments for all the sleep in the world.