Thursday, June 17, 2010

Treasure Found

I have a pair of mysterious cousins who, for reasons beyond any of our control, I did not see or know at all from about age five. I always counted them as family, and thought of them whenever I thought of Alabama, but we had no other contact.

In 2006, my Papa (our mutual grandfather) died, and one of the sisters put her husband and four children in the car and drove 14 hours to Ohio to attend the funeral with family she barely knew. The other cousin, who happened to be sitting for an exam of her final semester of nursing school that very week, was unable to come along.

The loss of my Papa was significant, as he had been the #2 man in my life for 23 years. But the gathering of relatives and friends was not simply to mourn his passing; we also shared stories and memories, and celebrated his life.

The greatest gift to come out of that weekend was the discovery that this mysterious cousin, a relative yet a virtual stranger, was a kindred spirit in many ways. In a few short days, we had established a new friendship as adults. I went home thinking I would like to visit her family in Alabama someday.

Almost four years later, that wish finally became reality yesterday as we stopped along the route of our road trip to visit both cousins and my uncle in Birmingham. I knew I was going to enjoy myself when we were invited to their house for swimming and hot dogs. That's real comfortable territory for us, and after a hot day on the road and multiple days of McDonalds & such, it sounded perfect.

My suspicions were confirmed when we pulled up to their house and found it an eclectic accumulation of 7 years of renovations plus a yard full of vegetable and flower gardens, 40 year old crape myrtles, pool toys, tiki torches, a trampoline, and a fenced playscape that doubles as a rabbit habitat. The two younger children were already in the pool to show us how much fun it would be to join them.

After the promised hot dogs turned into the even greater treat of grilling them ourselves over the embers of the firepit (despite the best efforts of two recent thunderstorms to dampen the experience), the children settled back into the pool and the adults settled on the screened porch for an evening of conversation that flew by entirely too fast. We barely scratched the surface of all we wanted to say, but are so glad for telephone, email and social networking to continue to grow the friendship.

I got to see my uncle, who I run into at home every few years or so. I caught up with Anne, the cousin I had renewed contact with four years ago. And I got to see Ami, my closest relative in age out of all my family, for the first time since about 1980.

No way can one evening overrun with seven energetic children adequately make up for three decades of lost time. But I was able to bring my man and my children into the circle of this family. We parted ways with a greater understanding of one another, and high hopes of other future visits. My kids made new friends, my husband found hers to be a great conversationalist, and I was amazed all over again that these two sisters can be so strange to me yet familiar all at once.

We continue on our homeward trek today, and I carry with me the sense that I have gained a treasure in Alabama. Our first visit has been a success, and I'm already wondering when I can return.

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