I am often envious of those whose friendships have endured since childhood, even high school. My brother is a prime example, as his circle of buddies has remained intact through the years. From the relationships he began in little league and junior golf to junior high and even as a high school transfer his group of guys, while somewhat scattered between Arizona and Kansas City, has endured college, relocation, marriages, children, even death. And throughout this legacy of friendship, I have benefited greatly in adopting (and being adopted) by a team of little brothers whom I love.
What my brother has is rare, I believe. Maybe it is my innate independence or possibly I’m not as wonderful a friend as I believe myself to be that results in my circle not being so intact, if there is a circle at all. Oh, I have wonderful friends, people whom I love and care about and worry over. Maybe we don’t see one another very often, maybe once a month, every four to six months, once a year, but they are never far from my mind. And, should they call in need, I would leave work or hurry into the darkness of night to provide assistance or comfort.
Or maybe it’s because as a child I didn’t need best friends because I had my cousins. In a family of 48 first cousins, I was always surrounded by relatives my age or close to my age, especially my mother’s side of the family. My mother and her siblings lived within blocks of one another, except for one family in California, so that Wedgewood Street, Waco, Market, Somerset and Manhattan, even Martinson (which was across town), became extensions of my childhood home. We walked to school together, shared birthday cakes, hunted Easter eggs, fished along the banks of creeks at the farm, rode bicycles, took up entire rows at movie theaters, huddled in basements during tornadoes, stayed up all night during sleepovers, babysat one another, became roommates, took trips, sang and danced at concerts, and eventually stood stiffly in rented tuxedos or scratchy new dresses during weddings.
When I was younger, I was always surprised or found it odd that others didn’t spend much time with their cousins. Some didn’t even know their cousins, let alone go swimming with them. I cannot imagine a life without my cousins. Even now, I’m picturing my life from childhood to present sans relatives and all I can imagine is boredom and loneliness. As I sort through the photos of my childhood birthdays, if I were to erase the cousins sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me to blow out the candles, well, that would leave me, my little brother, my sister, and in a few photos, a child or two from my school whose names escape me, now.
Maybe I would have had more traditional friends, maybe not. In our family, being blood means putting up with one another’s eccentricities and imperfections, which we may not understand, but we endure or ignore for the love of family. Others outside the blood circle would probably not be so patient or kind. One thing I know for certain is that I would be a different person. All of my cousins have provided a piece to the puzzle.They are all a part of who I am.
Each February, I am more aware and appreciative of my family since we celebrate seven or more (remember, there are a lot of us and sometimes I forget) birthdays during this month. February brings to memory piñatas and games and much later, themed parties and lots of beer at a small house in Riverside. Ours is a circle made different only by the means in which it is held intact, by time, by memory, by blood. My life is all the better for the love of cousins.