My maternal grandparents were first cousins. Ever since I learned this bit of notable family history, when I was a kid, I’ve heard the relationship defined as ‘incestuous’ and ‘illegal,’ and that it could have produced genetic disorders in my grandparents’ children (my mother, May, and her brother, Norman).
Fortunately, there were no genetic disorders, but my mother and her brother, along with their spouses (namely, my dad and my aunt through marriage) consciously decided to become neighbors when they bought their first houses in 1950. Called semi-detached homes, these modest structures had separate entrances, backyards and side yards, but shared a center wall. So my sisters and I grew up right next door to our one girl and two boy cousins. There is a 10-year gap between my youngest sister (now 61) and my oldest cousin (now 71).
Physical and chronological proximity aside, we were anything but “kissing cousins.” Our families never shared meals in one another’s homes, not even holiday repasts; we never vacationed together; we never went to the movies together, dined out together or celebrated graduations together. Except for attending my cousins’ weddings, and they ours, we might as well have grown up on different planets. We’d come a long way from our marrying cousins, a.k.a. our grandparents. We didn’t dislike our cousins, but our parents didn’t promote camaraderie and we didn’t take the initiative to get together on our own.
Whenever I heard about my friends’ “cousins club” get-togethers, I’d be secretly overjoyed I never had to attend one.
These “clubs” were big in the 50s and 60s, offshoots of clubs originally formed in the early part of the 18th century to serve large European immigrant families struggling to make it in America while trying to care for those in the ‘old country’ who hadn’t made the trip. Cousins clubs transcended ethnicity. Poles, Italians and Jews all benefitted from family closeness and generosity.
No wonder my grandparents’ generation was so cousin-centric. But even though my parents and uncles and aunts didn’t have to rely on extended family to support them in any way, why would so many of them not even lift a finger to promote friendship among their children? Especially when we lived practically cheek-to-jowl.
My two children have only four first cousins, but none of them are close either. Like our parents, my sisters and I haven’t done much to promote friendship between our children. We can throw around excuses, such as not living near one another, different lifestyles and vastly different demands on our time. But those are empty excuses. We just didn’t do it.
Besides, just because you grew up under the same roof as your siblings, doesn’t mean you’re all going to be best friends, or even friends at all. So who says your kids have to even recognize each other when they pass in the street?
P.S. Nine well-known people who married their first cousins: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Andre Gide, Igor Stravinsky, Jesse James, Rachmaninoff, and Wernher von Braun.
0 Responses to “Are You A ‘Kissing Cousin’?”
Kate Line Snider says:
I was an only child and always considered my first cousins real family. I saw them twice a year when we visited my grandparents in east Tennessee. Apparently they did not feel the same about me. I was simply an intruder they had to be nice to twice a year.
On my mother’s side, the family now consists of four surviving cousins who all hate each other. No one told me when their mother died ( she was my mother’s only sister.) I found her name in the obituaries online when I started searching around, not having heard from her in a month or so. I heard later that one of them had sued another, and that two didn’t show up for their mother’s funeral – they were all feuding over the pittance she left them.
My father’s nieces and nephews are involved in their own private club. After an absence of forty years they turned up – together – at my father’s funeral eight years ago and I haven’t heard from them since. I don’t even know if one of my uncles is still alive, and I have no way of finding out. (These people came to my house after Dad’s funeral, gobble food, and watch basketball, all laughing and gabbing.)
I don’t have much use for cousins anymore.
By the way, Queen VIctoria was first cousin to her husband Prince Albert. Their children married into all the royal families of Europe, spreading the mutated gene for hemophilia into all these kingdoms. (There can be physical consequences in succeeding generations.)
Geri Brin says:
When my mother died, we didn’t tell my cousins because A.) they didn’t especially like her B.) they hadn’t seen her in decades C.) they never invited her to dinner, their homes or even out for a bag of popcorn. Yet, they were offended that we didn’t tell them because they would have gone to the funeral. Hmmm, a little late to be nice, I’d say.
Oh well, the world is made up of “all kinds,” mom used to say. Right on, mom!
Kate Line Snider says:
Geri, I loved my aunt dearly. She lived 400 miles from me.I kept in touch with her all her life. I went to visit her when I could the last time about 10 years ago. I called her regularly, and sent her cards and flowers! Her children all knew this. When I couldn’t reach her, I tried to find out what was going on but I couldn’t reach my cousins. One finally called to tell me she was ill but then I never heard from him again and he didn’t answer his phone.
Geri Brin says:
The fact that your cousins did not contact you about your aunt’s death, in light of your close relationship with her, makes them sound like pretty dreadful people.