A bit of childhood that can’t be lost

This past week, Mary Lou and I continued to work toward a bucket list goal of attending a football game at every SEC stadium.   We flew to Little Rock and drove up to Bentonville, the home of Walmart, where everyone we met seemed to have some connection to that massive company.  
The game was fun, though Auburn lost in four overtimes.  The Razorback fans, or Hogs as they seem to call themselves, were great hosts and gracious in their victory.  The Ozark Mountains gave us an unexpected treat with the Fall leaves putting on a beautiful show.
However, the real reason we picked Arkansas as the team to visit this year is that eight of Mary Lou’s first cousins on the Ponder side live in Arkansas.  It had been many years since we visited the state where her father grew up.  
Mary Lou’s childhood included yearly trips to Nashville, in the very southwestern corner of the state.  The stayed with her grandparents on the old farm outside of town.  The other cousins that didn’t live in Nashville often came to visit at the same time.  Like many families, the cousins were different age groups, with ML being in the middle group.
We visited four different first cousins on our trip.  They all live in Arkansas, but in different cities.  Some are retired, some are grandparents, and all were happy to see us.
I had met all of them over the years, mostly at family reunions in Nashville.  Though my last name was Ponder, I didn’t know at the time that I was related to any of them.  Only decades later did ML and I discover that we were  tenth cousins.  Of course, that made all of her first cousins my tenth cousins as well.  You may have to think about that for a while.
For children, trips to attend large extended family reunions are mostly about visiting their cousins.  They aren’t the same as your siblings.  You can open up and ask them things you could never ask your brother or sister.  
Collectively, you can get away with doing stupid, dangerous things that you would never do on your own.  Cousins tell you things about your family that you never knew.  After all, who understands the craziness of every family better than a cousin?  
In many cases, your cousins are your first friends away from home.  I listened to Mary Lou and her cousins talk about those childhood visits of 40 and 50 years ago.  I have heard some stories so often I feel like I was there.  But it was interesting to hear different versions of the same stories, and to see the genuine affection they have for each other after all those many years.
An old proverb stated that a cousin is the one who walks in when everyone else walks out.  No matter how time and space separate you, cousins, first cousins in particular, share a bond.  It is like combining friendship and family at the same time.  Cousins are those rare people that ask how we are and then actually wait for the answer.   
The author, Marion Garretty, said it best when she wrote that cousins were a little bit of our childhood that can never be lost.  This weekend, I got to witness that truth first hand.
o0o
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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