When my mother died in 1991, I looked around and realized how tiny my “family” had become. My father had died in 1967. I had no grandparents. I was married, and I had one older sister, who soon would move hundreds of miles away.
I didn’t like what I saw. So, as I was putting death certificates in envelopes to send to government and insurance and financial agencies, I made a decision.
I had a bunch of smart, funny, fascinating cousins. Only a few had I spent much time with; they were all older than I was, some nearly 18 years older. They had grown up at a different time and had different experiences. But I decided right then that I wanted to find a way to pull them in closer.
So little by little I reached out to them. As the youngest, it felt a little awkward sending entreaties to my revered, accomplished relatives, but I tried to suppress my insecurity. I asked them to meet me for a meal in Lexington. I invited them to watch polo at the Horse Park. I made a trip out west to see my cousin in Seattle. I spent time in Indianapolis where two of my cousins were caring for their mother, whom I adored. I traveled to North Carolina and Florida to hang out with the more elusive ones, took car trips to Atlanta with the gung-ho ones. I went biking with one cousin, visited the art studio of another, hiked with a few, exchanged political emails with several.
When Rick and I moved to “Camp Showalter” here on the lake, I tried to organize occasional family gatherings so we wouldn’t see each other only at funerals. For a while, I even got better at sending Christmas cards.
When my friend David Hoefer urged me to compile my father’s early writings in The Last Resort, I had new and more urgent reasons to contact my cousins, especially the older ones. They knew my dad. They had stories. They had spent time with him on Salt River. I always enjoyed our conversations and their company.
Then I started this blog. My initial audience was essentially relatives and a few friends. As book projects came and went and the focus of the blog shifted, my connection with my cousins deepened.
Anyone who knows me now knows that when I talk about my “family,” I mean my cousins. Which is why the following passage in a recent New Yorker magazine article struck a chord with me.
The author, Peter Hessler, is describing his Chinese students at Sichuan University, where he was teaching in 2019.
“Among all my students that fall, nearly ninety per cent were only children. I learned that when asking [about their families] I had to clarify what I meant by the word “sibling,” because otherwise students might include cousins in their responses. As families shrank, the term broadened—for many young people, a cousin was a kind of substitute brother or sister.”
I couldn’t have said it any better. So to all of you cousins—first, second, third, or fourth—thanks for letting me latch on to you and your families. You have enriched my life in immeasurable ways. I look forward to more gatherings by the lake, more chance meetups on a whim, more walks along the trails.
Hail, hail, brothers and sisters!
6/3/2022 12:10:23 pm
Thanks Sallie, I love all my cousins like siblings.
6/3/2022 06:09:02 pm
As usual, your blog caressed my own musings about family and kin. As different as our backgrounds are, you touch upon what we have in common.
6/4/2022 06:38:08 am
The relationship of the cousins is a blessing, a great comfort and a support system that can be employed at a moment's notice when needed. I said recently that Camp Showalter is the center of our universe and that is because you designed it to be just that.
Barbara R Fallis
6/5/2022 10:14:14 pm
I, as an in-law, remember the first time I met one of the Goodletts. Vince and I went to Charlene's house, that wonderful old brown house, for lunch. I have no idea how it came about as Vince and I were either dating or newly married (which would make it 1978 -79?). I was a bit intimidated even though Charlene was so warm and vibrant and welcoming. Enter Martha. She was like her mother and there was something that set me at ease. I guess her laugh and Charlene's settled me down. (I know, I am a "talker" but was a bit shy that day as a newcomer). As a true bonus, Jean and Myra came and they added to the day with fun memories. It was a few years later that layer upon layer of Goodletts became my friends..thankfully! Great group of people. but all have a sense of duty, of fun and love a good drink!!!r (excuse any typos please)
6/6/2022 09:54:00 pm
On behalf of those of us readers who have absolutely no relation to the smart and accomplished and far flung Goodlett clan, whose family tree includes no one who visited The Last Resort or fished in the Salt River, who never taught with Pud or appear in his journal, who are not enshrined in any way in Sallie’s fictional account of Lyons or any other character in Last Train Out, not kin, relations, or cousins…but who are likely the topics of multiple emails to Sallie asking “Who ARE these people and what are they doing in our blog?“
6/25/2022 12:52:27 pm
My Kentucky grandmother was an only child and she liked to refer to 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins after which there were "aint cousins" and "kissin' cousins"
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