It’s A Family Affair by
100
(182 Stories)

Prompted By Cousins

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There were five of us girl cousins who grew up together, my mother’s three daughters, and her sister Daisy’s two. They were my only first cousins, and the only cousins I ever knew. Each of my parents had one sibling, and my father’s sister didn’t have any children. There probably were some second cousins on both sides of the family, but I don’t remember ever meeting any of them. My father was estranged from his family; I’m not sure why we didn’t socialize with my mother’s cousins.

The Featured Image shows the five of us sitting on the back seat of a surrey with fringe on top on Mackinac Island, Michigan, although I have cropped the picture so you can’t see the fringe. We stopped there on the way home from Interlochen, after picking up the other four girls, who were all campers there that summer. (I went to Interlochen later, but was too young at that point.) I’m not sure what year it was, but I would guess that I am six, given the fact that my front teeth are missing. That would mean my sister and my cousin on the left side are both eleven, my other cousin is fourteen, and my sister on the right is thirteen. My parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents were in the front two rows of seats in the surrey, which is why the kids are all crowded into the back.

Daisy’s daughters were so close in age to my sisters that the four of them played together from way before I was born. I heard stories all my life about how they would act out Peter and the Wolf, with the oldest cousin playing Peter as well as directing. They also all went to a summer camp called Turkey Point for several years, where Daisy was one of the counselors. I was so much younger that I missed out on all of this. By the time I was old enough to go to Turkey Point, the camp had gone out of business! I always used to tell my mother that it wasn’t fair how there was one cousin for each of my sisters, but none for me. I wanted Daisy to have another baby so that I would have a playmate too. Of course, by the time I was old enough to be saying this, a new baby would have been too much younger to be useful. I wanted her to magically have a third child who was my age.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I had a one-on-one relationship with either of my cousins. Alice, the younger cousin, was studying Spanish in college, as I was in high school. After my sophomore year of high school, and her sophomore year of college, we went to Cuernavaca, Mexico together, to take courses at the Universidad de Morelos. We were placed with different local families, and took different classes, so we didn’t see that much of each other, but we did take a couple of weekend trips together, and it was especially nice to have someone to travel down and back with. Then senior year, when I was dating a boy who went to Rutgers, I stayed in Alice’s dorm at Douglass (the women’s college of Rutgers) when I went to visit him for a weekend event, much to his dismay, since he assumed I would stay with him illegally in his all-male dorm.

Betty with Daniel Striped Tiger and Fred

I didn’t spend much time with the older cousin, Betty, until much later in our lives. She is an actress, and was always unconventional, plus she was almost nine years older than I. She graduated from college before I even started high school. She moved to Pittsburgh in about 1967 (surprising for a girl born and raised in New York), and was hired for a brand new show called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, where she stayed for its entire thirty-three year run. Even after she moved away from Pittsburgh, they would bring her back to film her segments. She became a huge celebrity among small children. I have sometimes been with her when she was mobbed by adoring little kids and their parents, which was strange to see, although cool at the same time. When my own children were little, we always watched the show just to see Betty. If there was an episode that she wasn’t on (which was rare), they would get mad, because she was the reason we were watching. We had videotapes of all the Rogers operas, where Betty played memorable roles like a cow or a giraffe. In 1999 when she was in the movie Dogma, I bought it to watch with the family, but had to turn it off after about five minutes because the language and the violence were not appropriate for children, something that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. We watched the rest of it after the kids were asleep, but it was pretty weird. For one thing, she was a nun! And the plot is bizarre. I don’t recommend it!

Thanksgiving 1976, ages 30, 30, 25, 32, 34

In the last few decades the age gap has become irrelevant, and we have related on an equal footing, sometimes getting along and sometimes not. My immediate family has had annual reunions for more than 30 years, which my parents, my sisters and I, and our kids always attended; many times my aunt would come with one or the other of the cousins, but generally not both of them at the same time. This has more to do with their relationship as sisters than their relationship with us as cousins. I think 1999, the year of Dogma, was the last time everybody was together, when we gathered for my nephew’s bar mitzvah at Thanksgiving in New York.

  • * * * * *

Just like we were five first cousins, in the next generation there are also five first cousins, because each of my sisters had one child and I had three. The oldest and youngest are outliers, with nineteen years between them, and eight years to the next closest cousin (very symmetrical!). But the three middle ones are close in age, with my nephew about halfway between my older daughter and my son. My sister and I both thought it was very important to create a connection among those middle cousins when they were young, which was challenging because she lives in New York and I live in California. So in addition to our yearly reunions in the summer, which were generally on the East Coast, she brought her son to visit us every year during the winter holidays. As a result, the three “middles” became very close, and still are. I think the two boys consider each other to be the brother they never had, and even now, at age 31 and 33, they talk and text and visit each other frequently.

Here are the five cousins in 2004, when they were ages 8, 27, 19, 18, and 16. I think they decided to line up in height order. My three are in the first, third, and fifth spots.

And here they are again nine years later in 2013, at ages 36, 28, 27, 25, and 17, in almost the same order, except the youngest has moved from the left end to the right end, so now they are in age order.

Finally, we come to the Patty Duke moment in the story. Since my youngest daughter’s father is an identical twin, and his twin’s wife was pregnant at the same time I was, we were hoping that we would end up with identical cousins. It could have happened. Genetically, my daughter is as closely related to the children of that uncle as she is to her siblings, since her father and uncle have the same DNA. However, my niece looks like her mother instead of her father, so as you can see in the pictures below, they are far from identical.

Here are the two girls in 2001, when they were five years old, reading a favorite book with my sister-in-law.

Even though they didn’t look alike, we thought these cousins would grow up together, because the twin and his wife were living in Sacramento when the girls were born, only four months apart. They would have been in the same grade in school, and could have done everything together. But for various reasons too complicated to include in this story, the three of them moved from Sacramento to Luxembourg, and then to England, where they still live.

Here are the girls in 2011 at age 15, the last time we got together, when we visited with them in England. Not only do they not look alike, the cousin speaks with a British accent. And they are not interested in any of the same things. Of course, that part sounds a lot like Patty and Cathy Lane on the Patty Duke Show!

Maybe we have the makings of a new television show! And my son, the comedy writer, could write it.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific story, Suzy, especially for a relatively cousin-deprived person. The dynamics are fun to contemplate, especially your unhappiness about being the only sister without your “own” cousin.

    Of course, I know who your cousin Betty is, especially as my older daughter heroine-worshiped her during her Mr. Rogers’ years. (I have to note that my daughter adorably referred to him when she was a toddler as “Mr. Roy-Der-Roy.”) Incidentally, I never knew that Betty was in “Dogma,” which I remember for being directed by Kevin Smith and with an amazing cast — Affleck, Damon, George Carlin, Chris Rock — but being a real “dog’s breakfast” of a movie.

    I also loved the “Patty Duke moment,” I well remember the TV show, as well as considering which aspects of the very different “twins” I liked and disliked. Too bad it didn’t work out with your family — although, as you note, the dissimilarities between the cousins was really the point of the show. In any event, even the possibility of such “twins” is pretty cool to contemplate.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I thought I was cousin-deprived with only having two. Do you have even fewer than that? I like the pun of “relatively” cousin-deprived.

      Betty has been in three other Kevin Smith movies, with a fourth one that is in post-production now, but I have never seen any of them. I’m not sure Kevin and I have the same sensibilities.

  2. Suzy, I loved reading about your enviously large family, all who seem to get along despite some feuding – as in all families – and differences of opinion.
    I had only one sibling, my sister Laurie who was 10 years my junior. We were quite different in temperament and personality, lived very different lives in different states, but I never doubted we loved each other. Laurie died five years ago after a devastating battle with MS.
    And my husband was an only child, thus our cousins are very important to both of us and we see them as often as we can – even those who live afar in Italy, France, Israel and your neck of the woods – California!

  3. Suzy, glad you eventually got your new front teeth!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I love that your sisters and cousins were all so close and everyone went to Interlochen! What are the odds? I became good friends with someone during all my years of visiting Dude Stephenson who was very friendly with your cousin Betty when they were campers (years ago he told me she had that successful gig on Mr. Rogers) but was disappointed that he had fallen out of touch. How funny that she pops up here.

    I also love your Patty Duke-like cousins story. We all loved that show back in Detroit. Wouldn’t it have been fun if the cousins had been more alike? This is a wonderful story all-around.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy, glad you liked it. Yes, we were an Interlochen family for many years. We still sing “Sound the Call” when we get together. If your friend wants to get back in touch with Betty, I can probably arrange it.

      I always thought that if my husband’s twin had married someone who was Eastern European Jewish instead of someone who was part Japanese we would have had a good chance of getting cousins who were close to identical.

  5. My, what a tangled web we weave, even if woven by the simple if inevitable passage of time! Your family testifies wondrous true with its complexity. As remarkable is the clarity with which your described the skein of its passage through space, time, and age differences. Your story read a bit like an Austen novel, although you were most merciful where Jane might have been a bit more catty ;-)! Written with ‘a heart full of love,’ to quote our magnificent Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. My heart goes out to you, little one. Age differences can be difficult at the onset.

    • Suzy says:

      Funny you should mention Jane Austen, I was sitting at an Austen event wearing a Regency outfit when I read your comment on my anachronistic phone. Anyway, no need for sympathy, I grew up and everything turned out fine.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I love this story. As the (by far) oldest cousin on my father’s side, I get how you felt left out as the youngest. When that side of the family gathered, everyone else seemed to have a playmate and I was babysitter. I guess that’s why my relationship with my female cousins on my mother’s side (especially Annette) meant so much. By the way, I loved watching Betty on Mr. Rogers. I laughed over your next generation of cousins. We often refer to a cluster of my grandkids as “the middles” and two of them are only 6 months apart in age. They don’t live in the same city and are now 13 year olds with very different interests, but they were very close as young kids. They still like to have sleep overs when they visit and do have one thing still in common — social media (urg!). Great photos.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Laurie. This was a fun story to write, although chasing down all the photos was challenging. I’m not nearly as organized with my photos as you (and Betsy) seem to be.

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