While as adults we have always kept in contact through Christmas cards, my cousin Nancy and I have crossed paths in person only a handful of times that I can remember. This was a result of the unusual age differences on my mother’s side of the family. My mother Jane was 16 years (or so) younger than Nancy’s mother, Kathryn (after whom I am named). When my baby brain was not even conscious of a cousin, Nancy would already have been in college. My first memory of that side of the family features only my aunt and uncle. My parents had taken my younger sister and me on a very long car ride out of Pennsylvania and into strange lands. I remember a great gray building in Washington, DC, which housed the offices of my uncle–certainly a grander building than any in Altoona or Hollidaysburg, so I knew he must be a very important man. And then we drove to an area with tree-lined streets and cozy houses and it was named Something Park. What fun it would be to live in a park! Best of all, in her house my aunt had a dog named Skipper who could play the piano! It was a wonderful trip, filled with marvels–but I don’t remember a cousin being among them.
The next memory I have was a time when Nancy’s family visited with the Taylor family at the little place we called “the cottage,” about 40 miles south of our house in Hollidaysburg. I think I have the story right: that the cottage had been owned as a fishing retreat by Uncle Roy, Nancy’s and my great uncle, from whom my father had bought it. By the time of this visit I was in elementary school and Nancy was not only married to a very tall man named Gene but she also had two little girls of her own. This made things even more complicated, with the lines of relationship very blurred. The little girls were younger than my sister and I, but not by that much. Yet they weren’t our first cousins. They weren’t really our second cousins either. But we definitely were related to them! And the person who was my cousin was a grown-up, sitting in the rustic little living room with her husband and chatting away as equals with my parents while the four little girls played Po-Kee-No and Go Fish out on the porch. Not much of a real connection there.
It was decades later that the real connection was made. In late May of 1993, the Taylor family threw a big weekend party to celebrate the 75th birthday of my mother, by then a widow for 23 years. At the time, my husband and I lived on an old farm property of his family. We were able to house all of the guests for the birthday celebration between our place (which had been a livestock barn) and what we called “the main house.” The four children of Jane Taylor were there, with their spouses and offspring–and Nancy was there, too. To have a whole weekend for cousins of all ages to get acquainted and reacquainted was a wonderful luxury. At that point, I was 40 and Nancy was 57 – and miraculously the intervening decades had demolished the age barrier. We found our connection: writing. Specifically, writing from memory. I remember sitting around the green wrought-iron table under a tree, talking through the afternoon and evening about writing and writing classes. Nancy later sent me a lovely gift: a book entitled “Court of Memory” by James McConkey.
Now it is Nancy who is celebrating her 75th birthday, and I am about the same age she was when we last were together. So much has happened, and so many are no longer with us–including my mother, who had tied us together. Following my mother’s death, Nancy again gave me a lovely gift: a letter in which she shared her memory of my mother as a young woman, barely more than a girl. A glimpse of a side of my mother I could not otherwise have known. And I am so grateful.
Happy 75th birthday, Cousin Nancy.