My mother, Susie Christina, and her two sisters, Clara Maxine and Viola Jane, grew up in Kentucky. I don't know if they supposed they'd be together all their lives, but after each one married, the sisters lived in different states. My mother moved to Ohio, Aunt Viola, to West Virginia, and Aunt Maxine stayed in Kentucky. Each eventually had children, but we cousins saw each other probably once or twice a year, at most. I have fond memories of the times we were together, but those times seemed all too few.
(Here is my long-lost cousin, Jeanette, on the right in the photo, with her sister Marcella. Arent they cute as buttons?)
Time has a way of passing when we're not paying attention, and soon, we cousins were all married and had children of our own. By then, our extended families only gathered for funerals since we no longer made yearly trips to Kentucky or West Virginia for visits. I don't really know why we stopped traveling to visit our relatives, but we apparently accepted it as part of life. I assume they did the same. Then one year, we extended family members were all invited to Aunt Maxine's birthday party. It was a milestone year and her immediate family and members of her church planned a wonderful surprise for her.
That was a memory-making event, not only for Aunt Maxine, Aunt Viola, and my mother, but also for my cousins and me. We hadn't seen each other for such a long time. There was one cousin I was especially anxious to engage in conversation. That was Jeanette, who I had not seen for the better part of 40 years - and there we were, sitting next to each other, chatting away. Neither of us understood why we allowed so much time to pass before we re-connected, but what was done, was done.
We had always relied on our mothers to keep us all connected, and though they made frequent phone calls and wrote letters to each other, their visits were few and far between. We cousins always heard about each others' lives through our mothers. We were told of the marriages, the new babies, the triumphs, and the struggles, but for whatever reason, we cousins rarely met, called, or wrote to each other. I know it wasn't because we didn't care about each other. I think we were simply busy in our own lives, with family, work, child-rearing, and many other things. Jeanette had become the mother of two beautiful daughters and grandmother to a dear grandson, who she and her family sadly lost after having lovingly cared for him for many years. I regret that I wasn't there to support Jeanette and her family when he passed. There is no way to make up for all that lost time.
Jeanette and I decided on that day at Aunt Maxine's party, to start anew, let go of past regrets, and stay in contact from that day forward. We began writing letters to each other and making phone calls. During one of those calls, we discovered we each had an email address - imagine that! I was computer illiterate at the time, though I think Jeanette was very efficient at emailing. I enlisted the help of my spouse to show me the correct key to hit when I wanted to send an email to my cousin. I'd compose the email, then call him to the computer to help me send it. After going through that ritual a few times, I decided I needed to learn how to send emails by myself. I credit my cousin for giving me incentive to learn how to navigate in the cyber world.
Jeanette and I feel we were Divinely re-connected at exactly the right times in our lives. As the adage goes, "timing is everything". At first, we didn't understand why it took such a long time before our reunion occured, but the reason was soon to be revealed to us. Aunt Maxine's birthday party was held in October 1999 (if memory serves) and we could not have guessed that a few months later, Jeanette would lose her only sister, Marcella. Within a few months of sweet Marcella's passing, I lost my only brother, Karl (Buddy). Suddenly, my cousin and I had much more in common than we ever could have imagined and we supported and encouraged each other through those very difficult times. I don't know what I would have done without my angel, cousin, friend, Jeanette. We re-connected over 9 years ago and remain thankful for that opportunity. Each of us has experienced other losses and disappointments in our lives, but we've also experienced much joy. We share all of that with each other and we feel very blessed.
Jeanette and I would often meet at a location half-way between our towns and spend the day together shopping, talking, and catching up on those lost years. We laughed, we cried, and we shared our innermost thoughts. We also compared notes on our childhood years. We are forever friends and the fact that we happen to be related makes it even sweeter.
Though our lives are constantly changing and we continue to live in different states, we stay connected and share many aspects of our lives with each other. We often feel we're more like sisters than cousins. Jeanette is a loving wife, mother of two lovely daughters, grandmother of two beautiful little girls, motivational speaker, gifted pianist and singer, talented writer, and tireless worker in her church. Though I wish we'd "known" each other during the years we were each raising our daughters, I'm very grateful we have our wonderful connection now. Jeanette is truly a gift to me and to our family and I am very blessed to have her in my life.