Jul 26, 2017

Cousins: Finding My Family

A bunch of cousins from two different generations.  The Benson-Maycock family reunion, July 2, 2017. In orange from left to right, Autumn Poole standing next to her husband my cousin Andy, cousin Lena who did an outstanding job organizing the reunion, cousin Denny and his girlfriend Michelle, Andy's son AJ, cousin Jason, and a family friend whose name escapes me.  The children are Denny's two and Elijah.

Cousins are a wonderful thing.  At least in my family.

As a kid our cousins were a highlight in our lives.  Close at hand were our cousins Nicole and Landon.  We saw them almost every day and, even though they were both significantly younger, just having them around made everything more fun.  And then there were the highly anticipated visits of our cousins from Michigan--Nabih, William, and Yvette Saliba.  They came down from the North once or twice a year, every year at Christmas and sometimes in the summer too.  Nabih is three years older than me and for a kid that felt like a decade older.  The difference between say a 12 and a 15 year old was huge.  But he deigned to hang out with us from time to time and it was always great.  William is only two months older than me and he was Vince and I's partner in crime.  Whether it was daring each other to jump off the roof of his house in Michigan, trading Transformers, or playing "Sneak" at night where we'd try to creep out of our room and spy on the grown-ups without getting caught, we always had the most fun.  As for Yvette, we didn't pay much attention to her as she was five years younger than me (and a girl, to boot), but I know she and my sister were grateful for the annual camaraderie of being the little to sisters to boorish older brothers.

And now my own children are the latter day Salibas coming down from the North once or twice a year to spend time with my sister's kids in their Florida paradise.  Those visits are the highlights of my kids year, and I wager the same is true of their cousins.

Cousins. You just can't beat em.

But here's the thing. . .I have a whole lot more cousins than I've truly realized until recently.  You see, I've never known my father's side of the family very well.  My parents got divorced when I was seven, and we moved first to the U.S. Virgin Islands and then to Florida, on the other side of the country from where my father lived.  I saw Papa, I think twice during my post-divorce childhood.  Once, in 1984 and again in 1989.  As for his family--my aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as my grandparents, I saw even less of them.  And I'll be honest here: I was really okay with that. I had no ill will towards any of them. I just didn't know them.  God bless them--they did make efforts; efforts I can only now begin to appreciate but that I often found baffling at the time. I remember Aunt Adrienne coming up from West Palm Beach to visit us in Orlando when she lived there.  I'm sure cousin Lena was with her, but truthfully, I can't really remember.  My grandmother always remembered my birthday and sent a card with a few dollars in it every year without fail.

When I was in college my brother and Vince and I made a pilgrimage up to Ionia, Michigan to see my grandparents and the stories of that visit--stories of my grandfather's wild but true stories and the story of my unfortunate decision to bring a novel along for the trip--are the stuff of legend. (Old-School Adventist Maycocks are very anti-fiction, as I learned ad nauseum on that visit!)  Barbara and I visited again a few years later and there were other family members there too, but I can't remember who.  And when we got married Uncle Antoine brought my grandmother and my two cousins Adam and Jason up for the ceremony.  There were other occasions where various Maycock's reached across the gap created by divorce and distance but I always found it hard to understand.  Why do they bother, I would wonder.  Why would they care who I am? They don't know me.  I was a little embarrassed that I got the relatives confused, that I wouldn't recognize  most of them on sight, that I didn't know their names.  Surely they must find my ignorance irritating. The concept of reaching out simply because we were family. . .I just didn't get it.

In the end , it was the cousins that brought me around and helped me find a great blessing in my life: my family.

Jason and Adam were relentlessly friendly.  My polite but non-committal responses to their overtures never seemed to faze them.  Karnice, Melanie, Jacqueline, Joe all friended me on Facebook and I dutifully accepted their friendship. Melanie even donated the final $300 one of my students needed to be able to go on his 8th grade class trip!  My cousin Denny (who goes by Dee on Facebook) I connected with in particular. I'm not sure why--maybe that like me he'd lived outside the U.S. mainland for years.  Something about these cousins of mine, somehow clicked for me.  Maybe it was feeling that they weren't so bound up in the austere version of Adventist Christianity that my father's generation represented to me.  I don't know.  What I do know is that in the end, my cousins were may way back in to the family I'd never really known.

This journey back to the Maycocks culminated in our decision to attend the Benson-Maycock family reunion and celebration of my grandmother's 100th birthday at the end of June.  The entire weekend was such a blessing and I'm so glad I attended.  You know that line from the Cheers theme: "where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came."  It was like that.

With Grandmother
I was genuinely touched by the welcoming warmth we experienced from everyone all weekend long.  It began the moment we pulled up at my cousin Lena's house Friday night, where I was welcomed by one familiar face--Papa's--and many more long-lost kin that would soon become familiar by the weekend's end.  True, I often found myself referring to the family tree in our reunion booklet to figure out who various awesome people were that I'd been chatting with, but I still felt like I knew my family whole lot better by the time we headed for home early Monday morning.

Me and Papa

I spent a lot of time talking with my father of course, but in addition many of my favorite memories of that weekend revolved around--you guessed it...my cousins--first cousins of course but also the grandchildren of my grandfather's seven siblings.  One Sabbath morning we ate the complimentary hotel breakfast in the downstairs common area and noticed a couple of vaguely familiar looking faces.  It turned out to be my cousin Jennifer (my great-uncle Harold's granddaughter) and her family.  Her son Josh would be the first of several fast friends Elijah would make over the weekend.  Then walking back to my hotel room after the family had gone up, I heard the exited voices of children emanating from our end of the hall.  I groaned inwardly that my boys were likely getting loud and disturbing the other guests.  Imagine my relief (that it wasn't my wild ones for once) and pleasant surprise that my cousin Denny had the room right next door to ours.  Elijah and Ezra would quickly bond with his two children and they were practically inseparable the rest of the weekend.  The boys--especially Elijah--were in heaven all weekend.  I think they were amazed that so many people were their family.  Elijah went around with a notebook throughout the weekend asking people to write their names, addresses, and phone numbers. And it touched my heart to hear him address my father as "Grandpa" without a second thought.

Elijah with cousins Josh and Ras on Sabbath

Elijah with his cousins on Sunday.  He had such a blast!

Other great memories included, chatting with cousin Melanie before the Sabbath afternoon potluck, sharing a lane with my cousin Adam, his wife Khadja and their little girls at the reunion bowling event Saturday night; hanging out in the hotel lobby post-bowling talking with cousins Joe, Andy, Denny, Tim, and others until two in the  morning; talking to Jason and Tiffany and Ethan at the reunion BBQ on Sunday.

We had originally planned to leave sometime Sunday afternoon and get back to Ohio late Sunday night.  But I was exhausted from staying up late Saturday night and I dreaded the thought of the long drive on so little sleep.  Plus the party was still going strong and I found I wasn't really ready to leave just yet.  But we only had the hotel for two nights and I didn't have the budget to extend for a third night. But before I could even ask, Tim Byrd (grandson of my great-aunt Mary)--as soon as he heard me say we'd be leaving Sunday afternoon-- was already offering. .. nay insisting that we stay at his mom Lolita's condo right around the corner.  We took him up on his and his mother's offer and headed their way after the BBQ wrapped up.  The boys swam in the pool, Babs took a nap, and I spent time getting to know still more family.  It was a little surreal to be meeting all these great new people--nice folks, you know and then have the realization hit you that these weren't just nice folks--these fast friends were my family, my actual flesh and blood relatives!

Cousin Tim and his wife at the Sabbath afternoon potluck, July 1, 2017

The weekend wrapped up on a high note, a joyful celebration at my Uncle Antoine and Aunt Connie's place on Sunday night. I talked to Papa for hours while the kids ran under the stars and cousin Jason's fireworks display.  It was perfect.  An evening of conversation, laughter, and good feeling among friends who had I had finally come to appreciate as family.

Aunt Connie and Uncle Antoine, my father's younger brother

At Aunt Connie and Uncle Antione's house, Sunday night, July 2, 2017

Our family is just like any family.  There's a dark side too.  Terrible tragedies, divorces, family drama.  Like most families there is a legacy of pain.  I know how that legacy touches me personally, but I'm sure there is much I don't know.  But that's okay.  I'm still grateful to have the chance even this late in life to get to know the Maycock side of my family.  I was blessed by the welcoming heart of every person I met all the way from Grandmother and Aunt Audrey  (who at 98 is the last surviving sibling of my grandfather and thus is the oldest living Maycock) down to the new batch of cousins my boys befriended.  I am grateful.

Cousins: My father's genreation

Cousins: My son's generation

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