This past weekend we drove to Oklahoma for a cousin’s youngest daughter’s wedding. Though I have only one sister, I have a large extended family, including a gazillion cousins. This weekend was a touching reminder of how special it is to spend time with family.
Out of all my cousins, the ones I feel closest to are Mike and Mark. Only one or two years apart in age, we literally grew up together. They’ve been with me since almost the beginning of life as I know it.
They were the brothers I never had. When my parents moved from their small town in Oklahoma, we lived in the garage apartment behind their house. We lived a block away from where Lee Harvey Oswald lived, though we didn’t move there until a year after President Kennedy’s assassination.
We were always outside, running around, climbing trees, playing games. One of our favorite things to do was play Tarzan. Poor Mark always had to be either Boy or Cheetah, and sometimes he played both rolls. Their mom, Aunt Faye, was like a second mom to me and my sister. Despite the chaos and aggravation of raising three boys, she and my Uncle John usually managed to see the humor in the boys’ crazy antics.
Eventually we moved out of the garage apartment and got our own house, but it was still only a few miles from theirs and we saw each other often.
When we got to high school, my aunt and uncle decided to move back to the small Oklahoma town they grew up in. Since just about my entire mom and dad’s family still lived there as well, we visited often.
We’ve stayed close through the years, even as adults. One of the best times of my life was one fall through summer when Mark and I were both divorced and heady with freedom. I would drive up for the weekend and we would spend our time on his friends’ pontoon boat at the lake, followed by country and western dancing at the local honkytonk. There were family reunions and camping trips, and lots and lots of laughter.
There’s something about being with family that’s unlike any other time you spend. Family who’ve known you since you were born, who’ve seen you grow and change and mature, who’ve seen you become a parent and even a grandparent. It’s like a deep exhale. It’s like being yourself again, after years of pretending to be someone you’re not.
We’re kind of old now. I see my cousins and they look so different, but I know their younger selves are still there, just hiding beneath the surface. Mark smiles, and I see his evil grin and flashing eyes signalling some trick he’s just played on one of us when we were kids playing in front of my grandma’s house. Mike looks down shyly, and I’m reminded of how quiet and introspective he always was, even when other boys his age were full of bravado and showing off.
I love them both so much.
I know that no matter what I do, where I go, how different I can be, or how many times I stumble in life, they will always be there for me.
I can’t say that about many other people, even other family members.
I was so touched watching Mark walk his last child down the aisle, her veil covering her face. I cried when he tenderly pulled back the veil and kissed her on the cheek, before returning to his seat. My first child is getting married this summer, and I thought about what it will be like for me when that day comes.
After the wedding, Michael and I, and Mark and his wife Terri, all went back to Mike and Kym’s house at the lake, and sat on the patio around a fire. Surrounded by pine trees and a full moon, we drank beer and reminisced. I got to know Kym and Terri a little better, and they got to know Michael. We talked about life in a small town, our lives as adults, and our children. We talked about growing old.
Mostly, we laughed. We laughed a lot. We had the best time. It felt like being home.
It felt like family.