There’s a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula tells Ian about her huge Greek family. She says:
So, you have two cousins. I have 27 first cousins. Just 27 first cousins alone!
(Watch this 5-second clip to see how emphatic she is about it.)
My immediate thought when I heard that was, “27? Big whoop.” You see, there are 73 of us first cousins in my family, including me and my 3 brothers. Yup – 73. And no, we’re not Greek. 😉
Now, you might be thinking that to get that many first cousins, there have to be a lot of aunts and uncles, right? And you would be correct, but maybe there were not as many as you might think, since most of them had pretty large families themselves.
There were 7 siblings in Dad’s family (3 of whom died young) and 15 in Mom’s (4 of whom died young). All who lived to adulthood, except one, married, and all who married, except one, had children. So that’s 13 aunts and uncles (plus their spouses) who had families of their own, with a total of 73 kids – that’s an average of 5.6 kids each!
I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until later, discussing that part of the movie with friends, that I realized that my situation was actually the unusual one.
That said, I didn’t actually know most of my cousins on Mom’s side. Geography separated me from most of them, as they were scattered across the province and country. Travel was very expensive back then and with the (obviously) large families everyone had, getting to visit with each other was not feasible. Everything I knew about those cousins came from occasional photographs, wedding announcements, and so on.
Then there were those who grew up in the same town I did, but from whom I was separated by age. Mom was one of the youngest of her siblings and she didn’t marry until the (then) ripe old age of 34. Her older siblings’ kids then, were much older than I was and had grown up and moved away by the time I was old enough to really get to know them. Most visited, though, for holidays and such, so there was still at least a closeness that we didn’t have with those who lived far away.
With Dad’s family it was somewhat different. There were still cousins on his side who were much older so that was still a bit of a challenge. But, while none of them lived in the same town where I grew up, they lived only a four- or five-hour drive away in or near the capital city of St. John’s. As such, we were able to visit them more regularly, especially as the highways improved.
Because of all of that, there were only two first cousins I actually grew up with. Out of 69, there were only two that I grew up with. Huh – I hadn’t thought about it in that way before! Bizarre.
Now, back to the aunts and uncles and the reason for today’s post.
Mom’s oldest brother, Roche, died (before I was born) of the industrial disease that left a couple of generations of families in the town I grew up in fatherless. When I was born, then, I had 26 living aunts and uncles (in-laws included). I’m now 48, so it’s no shock that, over the years, that number has dwindled.
Yesterday, I went to Burlington, ON for a memorial service for Aunt Nora, one of Mom’s sisters, who passed away last Sunday. She had moved back to Newfoundland for a short time in the late 1990s or early 2000s which enabled me to get to know her when I went home to visit Mom and Dad. We had kept in touch after she moved back to Ontario through phone calls and letters, as well as a visit a couple of years ago. She was funny and I had enjoyed getting to know her – I remember her with a ready smile and her fingers putting in her pin curls with a magical speed. I was saddened by her loss and very glad to be able to go to the service.
While I was there, I reflected that of all of the blood-related aunts and uncles alive at the time of my birth, there are now only 4 left: Mom’s sister Flo, her brother Vic, and Dad’s sisters Lucy and Rita. It seems like one minute they were all there and now they are gone.
I couldn’t help but think in particular of Uncle Vic and Aunt Flo – of the 15 children their mother bore, with Aunt Nora’s passing, they are now the last two. Even though they haven’t physically been around all of their siblings for much of their lives, there must have been some comfort in knowing they were there – knowing they could pick up the phone, or before cheap long-distance rates, pick up a pen and jot down a few lines.
I realize that that’s the case with all loss – we can’t just pick up the phone or the pen anymore – I feel it with both my parents being gone. But, for Aunt Flo and Uncle Vic, I have this image of a large family photo where most of the faces have faded and theirs are the only two distinct images left; the others are more like ghostly impressions than actual images. It must be a strange sensation.
Or maybe not.
We all deal with death and loss in our own ways and, because they’ve dealt with the deaths of their siblings literally throughout their entire lives, maybe it’s not as impactful as I think it might be.
I should have some sort of clear conclusion here before I end, but I don’t. I haven’t reached a conclusion on this one. It has, however, given me something to really think about.
Thanks to www.wordle.net for the word bubble image of our family names (aunts, uncles, cousins).