I spent much of my childhood six hundred miles away from my cousins, so the times we got to spend together were uniquely special. My list of cousins is quite large. My mom is one of seven children and my father is one of four. I have cousins galore. I love them all dearly, but I've always had a special bond with the two closest to my age on my mom's side of the family, Tiffany and Stephanie. They are the daughters of my mom's younger sister, but they are both slightly older than me. From a very young age the three of us were big time buddies and partners in crime.
Even as babies, Stephanie and I knew how to rock
We had a laundry list of games and activities to take part in when we finally got together. As I've mentioned, I lived several states away from my cousins and only got to visit during the summer. However, as soon as my family pulled into my grandparents' driveway for our annual visit, my aunt was right behind us in her station wagon, ready to spirit me away for some quality time with "the girls." This usually involved Barbie dolls, water, and plenty of mischief.
Stephanie was almost always the one who came up with the really fun ideas that would inevitably get us into trouble. We played in the mud, painted the playhouse with peanut butter and brought plenty of wildlife into my aunt's kitchen.
When we weren't catching snapping turtles at my aunt's house, Tiffany, Stephanie and I were at my maternal grandparents' house jumping on the trampoline, exploring the off-limits bomb-shelter or running around the neighboring fields and woods playing The Wizard of Oz. We made ourselves sick on crab apples. We tortured the younger cousins with stories of how the train behind my grandparents' house would jump off the tracks and come down into the field to "get them." We created elaborate imaginary worlds on my grandmother's front stoop. We occasionally fought, but our quarrels were always short lived.
This was a land of untold wonders
Unfortunately, as the years passed, and despite my family moving closer, the three of us drifted apart. We got married, had babies and jobs and hectic lives. We're friends on social media, but we don't get many chances to see one another. This past weekend however, we reconnected at my aunt's house for the first time in years. The conditions were less than ideal, the result of tragedy, but there was still a feeling of joyful reunion. So much was still the same about my aunt's house: the doormat on the porch, the pictures on the wall, the feeling of warmth and welcome. I could have been ten years old, plopping down on the waterbed and rummaging through my aunt's movie library in search of The Wizard of Oz.
Nostalgia is bittersweet. I have so many cherished memories of time spent with my beloved cousins, but those memories are usually accompanied by a little sadness over the loss of those days of innocence and wild abandon. Still, as I watched my children run around the yard with my cousins' children, I couldn't help but be happy at the completion of the circle. Cousins are not just your first friends. They are your forever friends. No amount of time or distance can change the fact that you are joined, not only by the bonds of blood and genes, but by camaraderie and love.
*Tiff and Steph, "There's no place like home."