(an entry for the On Display collab)
7 December 2002
My sister and I were never particularly close. We shared a house for 18 years,
sometimes shared a war zone, sometimes were the war zone. We were oil and water. I
was quiet and introspective; she was loud and argumentative. I was frilly; she was
tailored. I was books; she was sports. The 4-1/2 years that separated us was a huge gulf
in the years when we were growing up. In fact, the last time I saw her alive, we had such
a good evening that my thought as she left was "maybe now that we're adults, we can
finally be friends."
I have 32 cousins (give or take a few), and didn't really know most of them very well,
since my father didn't much like my mother's family. But we did spend enough time with one
aunt that I got to know her two daughters. I was much closer to my cousin than to my
sister in those early years. Each summer, we would spend a month together--two weeks at
her house (ironically quite near where I now live), and two weeks at mine. We were the
city mouse and the country mouse, but we got along well. (At the time we were spending our
time together, her younger sister and my younger sister were doing the two week exchange
As we grew up, the two cousins kind of drifted away. The one I was closest to married,
had children, moved out of state and there was a huge gulf that was not crossed for many
And in 1971 my sister died. It never really occurred to me that my childhood died with
her. My parents, of course, were there when I was growing up and we shared memories, but
they could only remember how things happened from a parent's viewpoint. There was nobody
left who shared those special childhood memories of my past.
But that didn't occur me at the time. I went along, taking care of the business of
growing up, having children, and helping them create their own childhood memories.
When we moved here, I was pleased to realize that for the first time in years, my
cousin and I would be within a 45 minute drive of each other. I envisioned getting
reacquainted, becoming friends later, but that didn't happen. We were both busy with our
own lives and some how those "we must get together sometime..." promises never
found that "sometime."
Our uncle died. He had been an amateur sculptor and had left behind some marvelous
pieces which I retrieved from his signifcant other, who decided she couldn't keep the
whole shed full of them. I picked up enough so that many of the cousins could each have a
memory of Uncle Paul.
It was "The thing" that finally made "sometime" a reality. My
cousin and her husband came to dinner. It was the most amazing night I'd had in a long
There was no need to become reacquainted. We fell into friendship as easily as if we'd
only seen each other the day before. The conversation was easy and flowed rapidly as we
remembered incidents from our childhood--sitting in an old apple tree eating green apples
and talking over the traumas of our lives, playing in the house her parents rented from
our grandparents, my first (and last!) motorcycle ride with a friend of my cousin's
husband, the idiosyncracies of my father, the fun of being with our aunts....the memories
poured out like flop sweat.
When she finally left to go home, I realized that what had happened was much more than
a dinner to get reacquainted, more than a chance to give her some statuary that was
created by our uncle. What had happened is that I had rediscovered my childhood. Sometimes
it seems that if nobody else remembers the things you remember, it's almost like they
never hapened, like you were sprung fully grown as an adult and never had a childhood at
all. But reuniting with my cousin brought all those memories back and it was wonderful.
I'm happy to report that since that dinner, we have remained friends. I helped her get
comfortable with her computer several years ago, she immersed herself in family genealogy
and has given the family back not only its own history, but the history of all of our
I realized after that fateful dinner that I had closed a door on my childhood, but
thanks to my cousin the door opened once again and I discovered that the memories were
still shiny and bright and I've never quite closed it again. We continue to get together
periodically (like today, for instance), and our memories now are a mix of childhood and
adulthood. Having her back in my life has made me a "whole" person again.