"Headin' to Manitoba", said my cousin's voice on the phone. Four of us. And hey.... the road goes right through (well, almost). Could we...?
(You can do that, with family.)
"We'd love that," I said. "Come." In fact, I'd be offended if those children of my father's elder brother and their spouses didn't stop.
Watchers populate my father's side of the family tree. We don't hover. Most of us don't stay in touch much. But in unusual life seasons, the uncles, the aunts, the cousins and spouses - we all hear. And at family joys and sorrows, some of us turn up. Family does that.
I don't think any of us realize how much we value each other until we re-emerge in each others' lives, bringing inestimably precious cargo: love, wrapped in empathetic emotion: Tears. Laughter. Hope.
They'd never visited us at Hope House, these cousins. They were, no doubt, curious. They have a right to be: the right of familial propriety. A connectedness that keeps the distance bridged, and the bridges open for whenever any of us may need to cross.
They pulled up about an hour after they called. The Preacher and I led them on a tour of the yard. Then, over black coffee, white tea, and Voortman's blueberry-filled oatmeal cookies, we sat in the living room and caught up.
We reported on our growing families, spread across three provinces. We shared accomplishments and mistakes, discussed our health and our hopes. Dreams, too. "Wanna go to New York? Take in a musical? Hey, let's plan it for 2012. By the way... anybody got money?"
We punctuated our conversation with laughter, with some eyeball rolling and teasing about thinning hair, scattered minds and widening girth. You can get away with that, with family.
We reviewed the strings that connect and the strands that separate. We touched on upbringing and downsizing; on each of the four generations with which we're all inextricably linked: our aged parents, our aging selves, our range-in-age children, and our grandchildren of barely-any-age-at-all-yet. (We bragged on them a bit. You can do that around family, too.)
Of our fathers' many brothers, only two remain. The older we cousins get, the more I observe - among the closest - that we are cut from similar patterns. Our fathers' genes came strong to us, firmly entwined with chords of love for God and earth, family and fellow man. They are giants in our memories, those men. Combined with the genes of our mothers, faithful and iron-strong, we are each doubly blessed by these ties that bind us. We hope to pass them on.
I didn't mean to write about cousins today. Maybe I didn't. Perhaps this is a litany of gratitude for open bridges. Or a sigh for families who have become disconnected and miss each other. Maybe an enticement to tie up fraying family chords. Or, to those who have burned their bridges, an invitation to re-build - for those who come behind. Because families do that.