As the “baby of the family,” I grew up with lots of older cousins on both my Mom’s and my Dad’s side. They expanded my world enormously. As they sat at my Mom’s dinner table, I glimpsed their lives as pastors, mission workers and song leaders, with a psychologist, an English prof and an Air Force pilot thrown in for good measure.
Some of our much older Clemmer and Moyer cousins were my Dad’s business colleagues in the family feed mill. I saw them whenever I wandered into the mill.
On my Mom’s side, I felt enveloped in the nurture she and her sisters Anna and Mildred gave each other. I was also blessed with a “girl cousin” my own age.
The Christmas we were toddlers, Helen and I knew there must be presents waiting for us under the tree. But after dinner the adults just kept eating mince pie, drinking coffee, and talking. Finally we couldn’t stand it. When nobody was looking, we toddled into the living room, sat down under the tree, and started ripping off gift wrap at random. Finally someone yelled at us. But soon everyone was laughing. We couldn’t understand why. All we wanted was to find our own presents.
Cousin Helen remained my best playmate during my pre-school years. Then her family moved from our Pennsylvania community to do mission work on the other side of New York City. During our school years, we shared girl secrets as our families visited back and forth. I cherished my two weeks in Centereach, Long Island, New York in summertime while my Mom taught Vacation Bible School.
Helen and I decided that when we grew up we would be teachers at the same elementary school, with our rooms across the hall from each other. As it turned out, we continued to live in different communities, and neither of us became a teacher….
Sixty years later, my cousins – living and dead – continue to restore my soul. My last remaining cousin on my Dad’s side died 16 months ago. Even though I saw Jerry infrequently, I felt bereft. Now when I wonder about events in our Clemmer family from times past, there’s nobody left to ask, as my big brother has died also.
Beyond that, I’ll remember Jerry the former psychologist for his wry humour. Several years before his death, he informed me that he was now living in retirement “just outside the bounds of Normal” (Illinois)! I cherish his wonderful reflections of our dapper grandfather strolling about town with an unnecessary walking stick.
On my Mom’s side, I’m blessed by still having seven first cousins. I especially treasure the breakfasts Sam and I enjoy with various combinations of those Derstine cousins when we visit my home community.
I appreciate being able to recall together poignant moments in our family history, to wonder “what actually happened” in certain situations, to catch up with each other and to simply enjoy one another’s company.
When I’m with my Derstine cousins, it feels like the nurturing bond between Aunt Anna, Aunt Mildred and my mother Martha still enfolds us, their children.
Questions for Reflection:
In what ways (if at all) do you still feel nourished by members of your extended families, biological or chosen, living or dead? By friends from childhood? For what do you grieve when persons die who have known you all your life?
Next week: Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Chicken Pox