Visiting the Cousins

I just called myself out on procrastinating my own writing.

On someone else’s blog in the comments. PS: if you want a female perspective on dating, I dare say Doctor Maria might just be your gurl.How male doctors that look like ballsacks have a wife, a younger girlfriend and/or a trophy wife and this woman struggles is frustratingly representative of our culture’s myriad-standard. She’s a good contrast to my blog, proving that if I had a great job versus none, I’d still face an uphill dating battle.

Still procrastinating…so, before I apply for a job as a bus driver and then get fired for changing the destination display to STRUGGLE, let me set today’s entry up for you:

I started thinking about my cousins as topics last year, but never pulled the trigger. These were the second cousins I knew as a child. I just couldn’t get past where writing about the difference between our two branches of the family tree felt more like I was sitting on their branch with a saw.

So I shelved it.

Then, my first cousins joined the locals for our annual family vacation.

I noticed the difference between my memories of the seconds compared to the present day experiences with the firsts.

Maybe that was my blog.

But it seemed like it had the potential to be a 5k word blog…any of you signed up for that?!? Yeah, I feel like I’m abusing attention spans at 2k.

And that was before I noticed-slash-attributed the difference in behaviors of the family elder…

So, maybe this is two blog entries, maybe it’s three. Hell, maybe I thought about it long enough to wear myself out on the topic and describing the struggle is all I have left?

Until I stop procrastinating and start writing…none of us will know.

<deep breath>

The Seconds

My family is small.

I didn’t know much about family or family trees growing up. There was me and my three siblings, mom & dad and three grandparents. For a minute, there was a great grandmother running around my childhood saving me from beehives and breaking hips falling off couches. Mostly, though, it was me, the sibs, the ‘rents and the surviving grands.

That’s less than 10 in what I would call the entirety of my family as a kid.

Mom’s parents were…divorced? There’s an extended family there, but in Montana, so very distant. I think I met her dad once when he visited Oregon. Of her numerous aunts and uncles, I think two have visited. But not understanding extended family, younger me never really associated these folks with long term memories. Mom was an only child, for whatever reason. With my loose knowledge of grandma’s life before she became “the one with the tall hair and the cool toy closet”, I filled in blanks as to why. Not that there were blanks…it was just my naive mind filling in gaps with fiction instead of asking potentially sad-making questions.

I guess…

Dad’s parents were divorced, but still living. His grandmother was my beehive hero, but died when I was maybe eight.

Not from a bee sting, for the record.

His dad is still alive, 97 years old next month! Of course, dad’s mother was “the me” of her generation. A single recluse with an infamous death.

Foreshadowing, but someone else will have to write that entry for me, obviously. I’ll put it in my drafts under: Fool-ogy.

I forgot about my uncle. Dad’s younger bro by about a dozen years. He was always like a distant brother growing up, we were close in age. As a matter of fact, I think there are as many years between he and I as there are between him and dad. Anyway, that fleshes our my extended family of ten. He’s also rather integral to The Firsts, no?

But then, in the perimeter of my family consciousness, there was this not well known nor understood and mysterious aunt-figure we would visit a few times a year. My family lived in the suburbs of Portland when I was growing up, specifically Milwaukie and Oregon City – which made it sound less suburb-y than it was and still is. Just trust me. My cousins, on the other hand, lived in what seemed like Alaska. When we went to visit, it was an exercise in “Are we there yet?” for my impatient self.

In reality, I think they lived 20 minutes away.

But it was on a farm.

A real, live farm.

Without a paved road, I’m not even sure whether it was an unnamed road or a really long driveway. You got to there house and just stopped the car.

There were cows.

Chickens.

A donkey.

A baby in a manger…oh, wait. It was just my perpetually pregnant aunt.

Fields.

With real crops.

And cowpies.

I don’t remember them ever visiting us in the “city”.

Visiting them was like traveling backward in time. I think there was a lot of focus on being self-sustaining. There was a lot of chores. Homeschool was the only school. I wouldn’t know if anyone but us ever visited…but if I had to guess, I’d say they were church folk.

Not that I knew that my cousins attended church. I just remembered what their house was like. There were bibles. Pictures of Jesus, Mary and assorted saints hung on the walls.

My cousins weren’t really allowed to watch TV, aside from The Lawrence Welk Show.

You’d think that’s as cool as one could expect out in the milds of the pre-suburban-sprawl of the Oregon countryside. You’d be right, unless you factored the family’s Wurlitzer jukebox into the equation. And you’d still be right – having a jukebox is just cool – unless you took into account that the jukebox was essentially filled with more Lawrence Welk type music.

I’m sure, in retrospect, that it wasn’t all Lawrence Welk and Tiny Bubbles all the time. I’m sure there were Andrews Sisters and Hank Williams, Sr and whatnot.

There were for sure nothing I understood as music from the current century at that time: REO Speedwagon, Queen, AC/DC…y’know, the devil’s music.

So, what did we do after the five-day covered wagon journey to get to my cousins’ house? Well, sure…sometimes we cranked up that jukebox and hoped it was almost time to leave.

Other times, we did kid stuff while mom and my aunt – I think by this time I had figured out that my aunt was my grandma’s sister – did what they did. Whatever that was. My cousins were two girls roughly the same ages as my sister and me.

Sometimes I would make mud pies on the “road” with my sister and cousins. Other times we’d all play together in the fields or exploring a nearby creek. Still others, I’d go with my younger brother – just the older of the two, the younger still being a few years off – and uncle to do farm work.

What a lark that was!

We learned how to gather eggs and milk cows. Both skills I’d use in a much more modern and sometimes bastardized manner later in life.

Sometimes, we’d just hang our arms over a split rail fence watching my uncle work. Other times we would play in the hay loft.

Around the time my third cousin – a boy – was born, my brother learned that he didn’t like geese. Well, he learned – in a memory that is burned into my memory – that geese didn’t particularly like him. And that he liked running, at least to escape pursuing water fowl.

Picture a goose chasing a toddler boy up a dirt driveway…that is legitimately one of my favorite and most terrifying memories of both my childhood and a formative reminder of man’s place in the food chain.

Back before Portland made it popular, my aunt tried to give us a chicken to take home. Every visit, we would come home with eggs or bread and sometimes meat. I think we brought home meat…people seemed to always be giving us slaughtered animals when I was young. I’m pretty sure my aunt and uncle gave us beef. Some hunter-type neighbors – that’s how Milwaukie and OC North we’re back then – gave us venison. Venison was something I didn’t fully understand, but we always seemed to have it in the freezer.

Anyway, I’m not sure whether my aunt gave us this chicken for its eggs or for Sunday dinner. My dad didn’t strike me as the slaughter-a-chicken type guy, so I want to say eggs is the answer.

It turned out that it didn’t matter. In my childlike curiosity, I could not grasp the concept of us taking a chicken to the “city”. It was in a box in the back of our family truckster. Being pre-humane, my mother had put down the back window so there was air circulation for the chicken. Probably also so the car didn’t smell like chicken shit when we left.

My sister and older cousin both assured me that, yes…there was a chicken in a box in the back of our family station wagon.

But I had to see it to believe it.

You know what’s scary? A chicken flying into your face out of a box you’re crouched over.

It also kind of hurts…all that flapping.

Thank god it wasn’t more bees.

Anyway, the third second cousin was eventually followed by a fourth, another boy. I think it was between the fourth and fifth seconds that my youngest brother joined our little family, making us six.

Somewhere in between knocking my aunt up, my uncle bought some land way out in the sticks. Eventually, this ended up being “just down the road” from the largest and most she-she of shopping malls in Oregon. At the time, it was all expansive fields with a Nordstrom sticking out of it. He parked a mobile home on his part and started building a farm. It kind of seemed like a hobby. Like a farmer with five small kids had time for side projects.

Over the years between the expansion of families and land and when my family moved away…to Kansas, of all the ironic places, I also started to realize something.

Or suspect.

At best, my aunt and uncle were producing stranger and stranger offspring. Giving the term second cousins an unfortunate double entendres. To the point where we had a legitimate rocker in the family now. And not in the AC/DC way as much as I’m the “maybe mom and dad are related” way. It’s a thought that evolved, but I never followed up on.

More questions you don’t ask, right?

But this rocking cousin was enough to make me wonder about my other younger cousins. The girls seemed normal enough, given the setting. But were the other boys’ behaviors just normal boys-growing-up stuff or were they…

I mean, a lot of little boys are bullies because they don’t know how to express themselves. But what’s bully behavior when a couple brothers away sits a quiet child, rocking back and forth to music no one else hears? Then there’s that middle boy, the one with a bucket on his head. All of the time…I swear, I never heard it, but I just know at some point my aunt said, “We don’t wear buckets at the table, sweetheart”.

Bless her little house on the prairie heart.

After we moved, we didn’t really see or hear from that branch of the family until grandma died. Somewhere in there, my eldest cousin announced her engagement to a boy she’d met at school. I’m not sure what was more surprising: getting married at her young age or that she had gone to a school.

What I knew was surprising was the following announcement that her younger sister was marrying her fiancé’s twin brother. Maybe the girls got weird by circumstance or maybe they were always weird and just passed.

Nature or nurture, right?

All I knew was that it was weird…siblings marrying siblings. And I think it was a double ceremony.

When grandma died, they insisted on holding a wake. My aunt was her sister, after all, so it made some sense.

So, out to the now-complete farm that we had never seen.

It was a compound.

On a hilltop.

My Black Sheep Bro and his girlfriend drove out with Sasha and I. Or vice-versa. We parked near the pole barn and walked over to the main house. My brother and I not sure what to expect. Nor how to appropriately warn-slash-prepare our significant others of the time about what they should expect.

I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a banjo playing hillbilly on the porch or my taxidermied grandmother standing in a corner…or both. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

We were welcomed in at the front door and taken past a hallway of bedrooms – that included a built in and lit grotto to the Virgin Mary at the end – to the living room.

Introductions were…a blur. I met a cousin’s husband and his twin, the other cousin’s now-ex-husband. There was a surly looking young man sitting – I shit you not – on an overturned bucket and sitting at the piano, but not playing it, another young man…quietly rocking back and forth.

My Black Sheep Bro and I exchanged a glance that said it all…actually, it said, “There better be booze”. We all socialized a little awkwardly, but pleasantly. I’m sure all the pre-marital sex and co-habitation and <gasp> homosexuality that we brought out from the city had more than one of them fighting the impulse to run to the grotto, but despite our different lifestyles and near-stranger status in each others’ lives…you could feel a connection in the room that evening.

There was pleasant chatting. Patient catching up on life events that were semi-alien to the listening participants on each side. But the bond of family provided a warmth in the room, that while awkward was still present.

Plus, a zebra-striped grand piano sitting in the middle of the room is always a great ice breaker…

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Visiting the Cousins

10 thoughts on “Visiting the Cousins

  1. Ok first thank you and you are totally right. The MD means nothing in the dating world except that first date who wanted me to look at his gout. Children don’t get gout but that didn’t keep him from pressing the issue…and there was this guy who came to his office to get his ears flushed and then I never heard from him and the huge-ass sailboat he was supposed to take me out on again. So yeah. If anything the doctor bit has caused more ew than anything.
    Glad I helped to shame you into writing before it got dark
    Drove and stopped the car – brilliant, use that again because it’s perfect.
    The chicken comin at ya in the box..tee hee.
    The lit grotto with the virgin Mary –
    I’m getting an Augusten Burroughs vibe (I love him)
    I’m also thinking that somewhere after the time changes and before I realize my dream of starting a commune for only great people…it might be fun to Improv Blog. I would be like improv comedy only you hand the AND to the next blogger and they keep riffin. I am saying this because suddenly I have the urge to go down memory lane about my Notwegian babysitter and how she always said that Guy loved Ralna so much but that Ralna was a cold ice princess who clearly didn’t deserve his love. I don’t want to say she called it, but I’m pretty sure they divorced on National TV And then they paired him up with Anacani Maria Consuelo y Castillo Lopez Cantor Montoya briefly.
    Anyway if we were doing Improv blogging I could say that without looking like a stage hog or a copycat.

    Strong work here.
    Are you writing a memoir. Yet?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Auggie…that’s some high praise, and I appreciate it! I usually get Sedaris references, but only because I think he’s slightly more top of mind, unless someone really *reads*. Neither is a bad thing, IMO! Although, I admit to having always wanted to be a novelist, all the while knowing my style was memoirist. So, that said, it’s taken me this long to get a novel cobbled together…from a particular fork in the road of my life and then going down the other path in pursuit of the “what if”.

      Like

  2. Yeah, I feel like I’m abusing attention spans at 2k. – we are.
    My grandparents and relatives on Mom’s side were from deep in the Ozarks. Nuff said.
    I opened this because of Lawrence Welk. He finally let them have some hair and sideburns. Lawrence was big Stoner Sunday Afternoon in my Okie youth. I was reminded of Lawrence by one of those small town travelling circuses, where there are 6 performers who do all the acts? The best bits are the after the fact shout outs from the people who worked that bible puncher’s cavalcade of whiteness with a token tap dancer. And more than a few virginal stars token out back. Weeee Hah! There’s a line in THG about how neighbors might as well be sisters in Arkansas…The piano intrigues me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok, yay…you made it to the end! I never could figure out how a family arc goes from Lawrence Welk to a zebra-striped piano…just good old weirdness, perhaps?
      Your comment gave me an exceptionally vivid mental image of LW toking on some of the Devil’s Weed the first time I read “Stoner Sunday”. It made me laugh, suddenly understanding his fascination with bubbles. Then again, I am reviewing a couple of very vivid dreams from last night, that make me want to ditch my first cousins draft and write about the dreams instead. Maybe it’s a carryover…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant post, as usual! This line especially had me laughing out loud: “Bless her little house on the prairie heart.” As you’re aware, I am from the South, where “bless her heart” is a particularly choice phrase that can be applied in a myriad of ways.

    Your visit back to the compound for your grandmother’s funeral reminded me of the time I attending my ex’s grandfather’s funeral. We drove for what felt like hours, to the middle of nowhere, up a very tall mountain to a community (if you can even call it that) in the middle of absolutely nowhere. You could practically hear the banjos plucking as we approached his grandparents’ house. At the grave site, his grandmother waxed poetic about Armageddon and the rapture and the second coming of Christ and all that. I very nearly died trying to hold my laughter in, but of course I wanted to be respectful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just love southern civility. It is amusing – and odd, don’t get me wrong 😂 – that a geographic culture can include mindsets that are…quaint enough to view the Bible as a literal document (ie: that Armageddon/second coming stuff) and still be clever enough to have such versatile idioms like bless her heart. Love, love, LOVE it.
      And then there’s the FOOD! Mmmm.

      Liked by 1 person

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