The Merriam-Webster Dictionary makes the definition pretty simple. A cousin is the child of your aunt or uncle. Another definition is that cousin’s closest common ancestor is a grandparent. In real life, cousins are so much more than that.
My mother had a brother and a sister. My father had a sister. Collectively I had six first cousins, four on my Mom’s side and two on my Dad’s side.
In the past six weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit with all of them. That is no small feat, given that two live in Washington State, one in Oregon, one in Chicago, and one in Utah. Only one lives close enough to see regularly; my cousin Robert, who resides in the Auburn-Opelika area.
Distance never was an obstacle in maintaining a relationship with my cousins. We regularly shared two weeks together in the Summer at Compass Lake. In a time before cell phones, internet and even color television, there was not much to do but play, swim and have fun together.
It was the same with my two cousins on my Dad’s side. We shared a Granny, the only child of four brothers. She was unique in many ways and we all share some of her traits. Martha and Robert actually lived with us for a short period while my aunt attended Graduate School. On my very first day of school, I was standing beside my cousin Martha. The picture captured the fact that she had on two different colored socks. Some stories live on 60 years later.
In fact, that is what I have come to understand as I have become older. A cousin is a little bit of our childhood that is never lost. The shared memories will come alive on those rare visits, as vivid as if they were yesterday
My cousins were my ready made friends. We never lived close to each other, but spent enough time together to become close. They were the older brothers I never had and the sister that was my own age. We shared the secrets of growing up and forged bonds that would remain strong our entire lives.
My oldest first cousin, Bill, attended the University of Washington. He flew in for the recent Auburn-Washington football game. We sat together at the game, caught up on what was happening in our lives, and talked about our futures. Family provides a bond that allows our friendship to take an occasional long hiatus, knowing we just pick up where we left off.
Bill began rowing as a Freshman at the University of Washington and never stopped. He remains a world-class rower 50 years later.
My cousin Bob is next in line, just a year older than me. He and Bill own a die-casting company on the West Coast. Bob likes to travel in one of those big motor homes and has the best patio I have ever seen.
My cousin Vassar is the CEO of Rose Villa, an innovative and highly successful Senior Living Facility in Portland. She participates in Dragon Boat races all over the world, most recently in Hungary.
The youngest of this side of the family, Josh, lives in Chicago. He bought and renovated an apartment building, where he lives with his family. He serves as a volunteer coach with the Chicago Training Center, which uses competitive rowing to bring opportunities for underserved urban youth.
On the Ponder side, my cousin Martha has lived her entire adult life in Utah. She and her husband, Peter, are also avid rowers, though a different type. They are both accomplished river guides and have led many groups through the Grand Canyon and other challenging rivers in the West.
Forty years ago, Martha founded SPLORE, a non-profit with the goal of providing outdoor adventure to people with various disabilities. This year, SPLORE will provide over 5,000 adventure days to people with various challenges in such activities as river trips and mountain climbing.
Finally, my cousin Robert attended Auburn University and never left. He is a successful entrepreneur, developer and politician. He currently serves on the Lee County Board of Commissioners and is an accomplished race car driver.
There you have it. A snapshot of my family tree and the diverse group of people that are my first cousins. They are liberal and conservative. Generous with their time and talent. Devoted to their families. Fun to be around.
A family tree can grow in every direction, spreading out for thousands of miles. However, the roots of that tree can run deep, reminding us that despite the miles and our differences, at some level we still remain a part of something greater; a family.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org