As I grow older, with time passing rapidly and the future pressing in, I feel a need to reconnect with my extended family. It’s like I want a second chance to know them. Since my mother and father were both from families of eight children, I have lots of cousins. One cousin I’ve wanted to spend more time with is Shirley.
When we were young, her family lived in New Jersey. They would come down to see us at the ‘homeplace’ in North Carolina, where Shirley’s mother and my father, sister and brother, had grown up. I was raised on that farm, and as a child was so excited when Daddy’s siblings and their families visited. I’d missed that as I’d grown up and moved away.
Several years ago, Shirley came down for a brief stay. Although she’s ten years older than me, we got along well and seemed to have common interests. She had an easy, gracious manner and invited me to visit her and her husband in Toledo, Ohio. I decided to take that road trip to Michigan that I’d been thinking about and go by Shirley’s.
After a long, tiring day of driving by myself, she and her husband, Bart, greeted me—along with their vivacious puppy, Greta. We sat in the cool comfort of their living room, enjoying a leisurely conversation– the way I remembered visits in childhood before life became so hectic. That evening they drove me around Toledo and took me to their favorite Greek restaurant, eager to show me a good time.
The next morning, Shirley and I sat for hours on her screened porch, drinking coffee and comparing notes on our separate lives. We soon discovered that our families had labeled us as having traits of our unmarried Aunt Polly.
“Yeah, they called me ‘particular’ and said I was like her,” Shirley told me.
That was an easy conversation for me to imagine.
“I heard the same thing ten years later. Told me I might not find a husband if I kept being so picky– like Polly.”
We agreed this label was a complement; being like our loving aunt who appreciated art, was an avid reader, and had a creative spirit.
We finally ended our conversation on the porch to leave for lunch with Shirley’s friend, Kelly at the Toledo Art Gallery. That afternoon we shopped in Perrysburg. It was a fun outing with my cousin showing me her favorite spots, seeing her life that I’d only known from a distance.
For the remainder of my visit, we’d launch into a conversation of discovery, each one asking for clarification of a family event.
“I remember y’all visiting at Easter when I was six. You went ‘uptown’ that Saturday and bought some 45s. I wanted to be a teenager like you.” I could hear that record playing over and over, maybe Dell Shannon’s “Runnaway” that was on Billboard’s Top 10 in April of 1961. Shirley thought that was accurate and remembered how she and her younger sister, Polly—who was actually named after Aunt Polly but less like her than Shirley, thought it was fun to visit us in Sanford. That surprised me since I thought it would seem so small town to them.
When it was time for me to leave, I hated for our visit to end. I liked hearing her perspective on life in her family and her impressions of mine. It was nice to discover how we shared an identity with our Aunt Polly, and now with each other.
If I hadn’t taken the time to include the visit with Shirley, I would’ve missed an opportunity to see how we fit into our Rosser family. I came away knowing more of myself by having a second chance to know my cousin.
What about you?
Is there a family member you’d like a second chance to know?
What steps could you take to make that happen?