When I was a child, our family of five would pile into the car and drive two hours from Northern New Jersey to a little town on Long Island. I would get so excited as we crossed the Whitestone Bridge, because I knew we’d be there soon. We were headed to my cousins’ house.
My aunt and uncle had three girls. I was blessed with a brother and sister. We were all about the same age, give or take a few years. While we lived miles and miles apart—at least, it seemed quite a distance to eight-year-old me—we were extremely close. It was as if I had three more sisters rather than a few cousins.
Sometimes we traveled to see them for a holiday. Sometimes we were celebrating a milestone event. There were also many times we visited just to spend time together, cook on the grill and swim in the pool. But every now and again, we made the trip to spend the evening with a babysitter.
The evenings we spent with the babysitter were special. For us, it meant take out food, dessert, stories and movies and general, all-around fun without the parents. For our parents, it meant a cousins reunion.
While the girls were our first cousins—my mom and their dad are siblings—it was with the parents of our second cousins with which our parents would hang out. My mom and uncle got together with their first cousins and all the spouses every year or so without the kids. It was all about reconnecting. That and they all loved each other’s company.
Fast forward 30+ years. Wow—where did the time go? Anyway, last weekend, I left my children behind and headed up to Long Island from North Carolina. Last weekend, my siblings, first cousins and second cousins were gathering for our first official cousins outing of our generation. And I wasn’t even the one who traveled the farthest.
Maybe it was our Italian heritage. Maybe it was memories of our parents gathering regularly to reconnect. Maybe it was the spirit of our Great Grandpa Joe—our common ancestor—guiding us to rediscover our family. Whatever it was, the event itself, once in the works, became a high priority. Ten of the twelve of our generation made it.
We range in age from mid-20s to mid-40s. Yet, taking up three lanes at a bowling alley with tables of food separating us from the rest of the world, we were all close in age, spirit and kinship.
To say we were able to reconnect is an understatement. We were glowing with joy and pride. Our giddy happiness was contagious and palpable. We were also fiercely competitive, paying close attention to team and individual scores. We were loud, rambunctious and, well, really loud.
Desserts came with our package deal for the evening, but we brought extra boxes of pastry because, well, that’s what we do. We ate, drank and were merry.
The hours slipped away too quickly. Before we knew it, our bowling adventure had come to an end. We stretched our time with obligatory group picture taking. First, we lined up in age order and had spouses snap photos. Then we coaxed a bartender to take a group picture of the entire crowd of fifteen.
When the last picture was snapped, we couldn’t quite say goodbye. It had been so long since some of us had seen each other. Through misty eyes we agreed to see each other more often.
One of our cousins and his wife graciously hosted an after party at their house, giving us more time, more laughs and more food. But alas, we had to call it a night.
The cousin hosting my stay and I arrived back at her home in the wee hours. We should have been exhausted, but we were wide-eyed from the excitement—and the unlimited diet cola included in our package deal.
The event finally slipped into our pleasant archives of favorite memories that last a lifetime. The cousin that served as party planner is already contemplating next year’s event. In the sweet emotional wave we’ve been riding since our gathering, we decided to make our cousins’ reunion an annual event.
On my flight back home, I was lost in the recent memories and Facebook posts of a great family event. Arriving in North Carolina, I was not too tired to bend everyone’s ear, flipping through images on my phone.
If you haven’t gotten together with your cousins in the past few years, I highly recommend putting a bug in the ear of the family planner. And be sure to scope out a good pastry bakery, because you can never have enough dessert when you’re hanging out with family.
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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is email@example.com