My mom and dad both came from big families and I have a hundred or so cousins. Growing up, I knew my Whittle cousins quite well. We saw each other frequently at Grandma and Grandpa Whittle’s house in Stover. The ones close to my age became like additional sisters to me. I even got to know some of the younger kids who seemed like pests at the time, but I still formed that family bond with them.
I never had the same close attachment with my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. My only contact with them was during sporadic family reunions, usually at my Aunt Freida’s house. Because of the reunion location, the cousin I saw most consistently on the Capps side of the family was Karen. I was in my early teens when I met my cousins Charlie and Sharyn, but we became pen pals and they both came to my high school graduation.
Time passed and it seemed that I only saw my cousins at funerals, usually with little time to visit and become reacquainted. When Charlie died, my mom and I went to the funeral. Sharyn was heartbroken to lose her only sibling. We exchanged addresses but our written communication was limited to Christmas cards. Jim was in the nursing home in Marshall where Sharyn lived and we occasionally had lunch together. A few years ago, my Christmas card was returned, and I never received one from her with a new address.
It is easy to lose touch with people and yet with Facebook it is so easy to connect. Last winter, my cousin Karen suggested that I friend my cousin Marge. Soon, we were talking about a cousins reunion in the summer.
As the time grew closer, we firmed up a date. My brother Tommy offered to host the reunion. He asked me to get hold of my aunt and uncle that lived in Sedalia and their daughter. I told him I could do that.
“How about Sharyn?” I asked.
“Can you call her?”
“I’m sure I can track her down,” I said. “I know her married name, and I think she lives at Marshall.”
After we hung up, I placed the call to my aunt and uncle. They were excited about a reunion. Then I tried to find Sharyn on Google. I couldn’t find her, so I pulled out an area wide phone book and there she was—listed at Sweet Springs. I’d been spelling her last name wrong. Oh, well, since all I was looking for was a phone number, I called the number in the book. Busy. After several attempts, She’s probably on dial up Internet, I thought. The next day, I called and a recording said the number had been disconnected.
My phone book was several years old, so I asked a co-worker, Dawn, if she had a newer directory. She said, “I always look on People Find.”
“Oh, I couldn’t find her on Google, but I was spelling Sharyn’s name wrong.” I spelled the name and she turned to me and said, “It says she’s deceased.”
“What? No one in the family knew that. Maybe it’s not her.”
Dawn plugged the name in Google and up popped Sharyn’s obituary. She had died two years ago.
After I shared the shocking news, I realized how important this reunion was. I knew Marge had lost three brothers that I never really had a chance to know.
The day of the reunion was a beautiful sunny, warm summer day. As we sat in Tommy’s lanai, we took turns talking about what we did, our families, our passions.
“When I was growing up, I thought Dad had about fifteen brothers and sisters,” my sister Terri said. My two aunts at the reunion—Rosemary (Runt) and Freida (Dede) both laughed.
“Dad is the one that gave us the nicknames,” Rosemary said.
“I thought Robert did,” said my cousin Robin. I nodded agreement. Her mother, Shirley (Tot) had always said my dad had given them the nicknames. Aunt Shirley passed away two years ago, and I remembered her saying the same thing many times.
We heard stories of heartbreak, my brother Jimmy and my cousin Mary had both lost daughters. My cousin Karen shared the humorous story of my mom and Aunt Freida’s trip to California to visit her sister “Dude.” My aunt Freida stepped off the train to make sure they were on the correct train, and the train left with my mom, my mentally handicapped cousin Laney, my aunt’s ticket, purse, and luggage. Even without money or proof of identity, my aunt managed to get on the next train and arrived shortly after my mom and Laney. “That’s why we take her now,” Karen finished.
“Laney is my favorite cousin,” my brother Jimmy said. “She’s my biggest fan.” Laney beamed from ear-to-ear. My aunt takes her to the nursing home when Jimmy, my mom, and friends play music.
After sharing abbreviated stories of our lives, we moved to the yard for pictures and conversation. My mom, Jimmy, and Mitchell played music with others joining in to sing. Family ties brought us together, but it was the beating heart of family helped us bond.
Copyright (c) June 2013 by L.S. Fisher