Everybody into the Gene Pool


‘There’s no such thing as too many cousins’

I guess it’s the Silly Season. Newspapers in the UK are publishing pictures of baby Queen Elizabeth doing a mini Nazi Salute. The New York Times today featured a cover story on (yawn) Hilary Clinton’s Dad. And bloggers are publishing pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Looks like summertime-desperation-for-readers has set in. I’m thinking that it’s the time of year when just about anything I write won’t be able to compete with the beach. The only thing worse for my stats would be if it were Christmas. Or if I wrote about the ding-dang South Pole again.

So here goes. Cousins. I worry, what with the trend to smaller families and all, that the whole Cousin Thing will be experienced by fewer and fewer in the future. The Child, for example, has seven Henry Cousins, five of whom are pictured at the top of this post. Of course that’s waaaay more than the measly three the Whitmores managed to eke out. From six siblings (!)

I mean, when I was a kid, we had cousins. The Petersons, who were Swedish and Lutheran and played Scrabble and drank coffee, produced this batch:

Peterson Cousins, enduring the Holiday indignities of scratchy clothes and being lined up by height

Peterson Cousins, enduring the twin Christmas indignities of wearing scratchy clothes and being lined up by height

(Note that five of these Peterson Cousins are actually Henrys — my siblings and me. Those other kids didn’t stand a chance.)

Meanwhile, my Dad’s family, the Henrys, who were (mostly) French and Catholic and played poker and drank homemade plum wine, produced this batch:

A partial, somewhat representative, sample of Henry cousins. There were way more than this, trust me

A partial, and very early, sample of Henry cousins. There ended up being way more Henry cousins than these, trust me. (BTW, that’s me on the ground, next to Jimmy-with-all-the-toys, who is sucking his thumb.)

See, the Henrys gathered mostly in the summer. Which meant the cousins were always running around outside and hard to capture in a photo. It’s practically impossible to line up, say, 40-some-odd kids who insist on climbing greased poles and riding farm carts down hills. Much less dress them in scratchy clothes.

Grampa Henry aids and abets some dangerous farm-machinery fun

Grampa Henry aids and abets some dangerous farm-machinery fun

Here’s another shot. Sorry for the poor quality; it’s Summer and I don’t have my scanner here. But you get the idea:

Even more Henry Cousins. Again it was summer, and again, not nearly all of them are here

Even more Henry Cousins. Again it was summer, and again, not nearly all of them are here

So what’s so cool about cousins? Well, if you’re lucky enough to have some, you already know. But in case you don’t, or would like to compare notes on cousinly highjinks, here are some of my fond recollections.

For one thing, since you didn’t see your cousins all that often, you didn’t get sibling-sick of them. And if you visited at their house, they had completely different toys. (I had two Henry Cousins named Jimmy. We called one Jimmy-with-all-the-toys because he was — gasp — an only child and had tons of cool toys. Stuff like tropical fish tanks and trampolines and electric trains and sock monkeys. Of course, he also had a Very Strict Dad who wouldn’t let him wear blue jeans. So there was that.)

For another thing, when you were with your cousins, that meant that the Parents were hanging out with the rest of the family. While they were busy playing poker (Henrys) and Scrabble (Petersons), pretty much nobody paid any attention to the kids. The adults kind of threw you all together and hoped for the best.

Apparently, this doesn’t happen that much anymore, more’s the pity. People write in to advice columns and ask about what to do because cousins who hadn’t seen each other in a long time were going to get together. Not to sound all curmudgeonly, but, in the Days of My Youth, parents didn’t fret about this; things just kind of sorted themselves out.

The Big Cousins would play tricks on the Littler Cousins. Like the time Ronnie and Richie got us to eat vanilla ice cream with green peppers. And the time they told my little brother Roger that raccoons were giant beasts who lived in the cornfield and would get him if he went in there. The worst, I think, was the time one of the Big Cousins (I won’t say who, because I think it was one of my brothers) called one of the Little Cousins from a phone extension in another room, and told the poor kid he was Santa. That he’d been watching him, he’d been very very bad, and was getting no toys that Christmas. Ouch. Maybe these newfangled parents have a point, after all.

Before I close, here’s another shot of the picture at the top of this post. As a reward for having read this far, you’ll see why the kids’ faces look all sort of weird and wrinkly:

A-hah! 'Gene Pool' is an image on a shirt. Designed by my Dad, and given out to various and sundry about 20 years ago. Thanks, Dad.

A-hah! ‘Gene Pool’ is an image on a shirt. Designed by my Dad, and given out to various and sundry about 20 years ago. Thanks, Dad. For having a bunch of cousin-producers. Too bad Leo and Ella aren’t in the tub too

One more July post to go, People. Stay cool out there. Oh, and speaking of cousins, if you can handle the heat, feel free to revisit my steamy story ‘The Incest Mug’.

Amagansett, New York. July 2015

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15 thoughts on “Everybody into the Gene Pool

  1. I don’t have many cousins myself but my siblings are working on it. My son is an only and his cousin who is 2 years younger is like having a sister but better, I think. As always, love the pictures, Alice. 🙂

    • “My siblings are working on it” Genius! Yes, The Child is also (alas) an only. She too is very close to three of her cousins who, as good luck would have it, were all born in the same year. They grew up in CA, ME, WA, and NY, but when they get together, it’s like no time or distance has ever separated them.

  2. Love this post! Some of my best memories are with my cousins. Both my mom’s family and my dad’s were large which meant a lot of cousins for us. 🙂 I miss those big family get togethers!

  3. Love it! I grew up with cousins and family reunions. We moved from our home state and gave a lot of that up. But also, like you said, family’s are smaller now. My brother and sister and one of Danny’s brothers didn’t have kids!

    • That was the way to grow up, right? With tons of cousins! I guess kids today don’t miss them if they never had them. Though I do think it’s a shame to miss out on all that Cousin Craziness.

  4. You captured the cousin culture right on, Alice. I have lost touch with all my cousins, of which there are many, except for a couple of them, one of whom I used to babysit. We loved to go down and visit the country cousins who had no toys to speak of but had acres to roam.

    • Thank you, Judy! Yes, that Cousin Connection was so wonderful. I say ‘was’, because, like you, I have lost touch with many of mine as well. Interestingly enough, some are quite active on FB, but it’s not the same as being actually together and getting into mischief together! xox

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