Cousin.

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We grew up together in the way that cousins do.

We sometimes visited her house, but I don’t remember them visiting ours.

Mostly, we met up once a year on Christmas night at our grandmother’s house in North Fitzroy, just down the road from the Fitzroy Cricket Ground and even closer to the Lord Newry Hotel, although we were way too young to see the inside.

An added ‘meet up’ bonus would be the numerous weddings and christenings that my family were famous for, but mostly it was Christmas night.

While the aunties would do their best to outdo each other with a staggering array of food including cream cakes that were probably shortening our lifespan, we young ones would play and talk.

There were two waves of cousins.

The slightly older ones and us slightly younger ones.

One Christmas night sticks out above the blur of all the others.

It was probably 1968, and we were huddled in the small front room of my grandma’s double fronted Italianate Victorian house which, legend had it, was originally built for a doctor in the 1880s.

My grandfather bought it for his new bride from the profits generated by two fruit and vegetable shops. The house had two concrete fountains in the front yard which we climbed on when we were a lot younger. I harboured a desire to restore these fountains to their nineteenth century working glory.

Sitting in that small front room us cousins talked about our hopes and dreams and the phenomenon that was the TV show ‘Laugh In’. I was off to Teacher’s College the next year, and I was full of excitement, and I’m sure I spoke about my ambition.

Therese was a couple of years behind me, and of all the cousins she was the only one to go into teaching as I had.

Unlike me, she stayed in the profession and, by all accounts [her’s included], she loved her job. I can imagine the children loving her as well.

As the aunties and uncles died off, the family ‘jungle drum’ went quiet. Family news no longer reached me. Therese’s mum died quite young, and I missed the news of her father’s passing. He was probably my favourite uncle, and this made me sad.

I made an effort and tracked her down earlier this year, and we exchanged letters.

Yes, letters; she was distrustful of the internet and preferred ‘snail mail’.

Her handwriting was impeccable, as you would expect from a lifetime of teaching children how to write.

Unfortunately, our correspondence petered out after a while, and I left it at that as I felt that she wanted her privacy.

I planned to try again sometime this year, and possibly arrange to meet up for coffee.

On the way to visit our grandchildren, my wife noticed an entry in the newsletter that she receives from her old secondary school.

She did not want to leave it until she got home, so she texted me.

Therese had died suddenly in early November.

An email to another cousin revealed that she had been dead for three days when they found her.

This created a lot of questions which will only be answered after a Coronial inquiry.

I guess I missed her funeral and I could not find any reference to it in the newspapers.

The ‘jungle drums’ don’t reach me anymore, so my relatives live their lives and deal with their triumphs and tragedies without my participation.

In my head, we are still young and still sitting in that little room at the end of the 1960s, with our whole lives in front of us.

Therese never married and I have no idea if she had any near misses.

She leaves behind a brother and a sister, and she is reunited with her mum and her dad and a sister who died when she was twenty-one.

Sleep well cus’, I remember you.

 

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14 thoughts on “Cousin.

  1. Sounds like Theresa was alone for a very long time, probably caught up in caring for her father too before he died. Very sad story, Terry. At least facebook-much though I detest it-can provide some means of keeping in touch with those who are more inclined to use that route.
    My sympathies to you on the death of your cousin. I bet you`re glad you got in touch, though.

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  2. Your story resonates so much with my own. I have a township’s worth of cousins … our mothers were from a family of 12 children. With each sibling having anywhere from 2 to 8 kids, you can imagine how the family grew exponentially. And we did spend a lot of time together when we were young and we had “waves” as you describe: the cousins a few years older and the ones I looked up to, and the younger ones or those closest my age that I played with. Now that we are all (much) older, the waves have smoothed out and we treat each other as peers whenever we manage to get together. We are far flung across the US, and only rare family reunions bring most of us together now. And yet none of us are entirely alone … yet. It’s a cold fear that I have, since I have no children, only my spouse, that I might wind up like Therese. Being connected to the Internet, engaging in social media, is not a fail-safe to dying alone. Maintaining your correspondence with Therese would not have protected her either. That you “tracked her down” and did have correspondence with her is something I hope you will treasure for a long time. I want to believe that she did and that, while dying alone may be a cold fear for many of us, perhaps it wasn’t for her. If she eschewed technology, if she valued her privacy to the point of not being in daily contact with anyone, then maybe, for her, it was okay to die alone. I’m probably not making you feel any better. It’s just that when we’re left behind, we want answers and we dwell on what we could have done differently, even though any extra effort on anyone’s part might not have changed anything. I am truly sorry for your loss and I hope that, whatever the circumstances, that Therese went peacefully.

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  3. Oh Terry, this is such a sad thing to happen. I think though, losing touch with family is more common than we think. I have cousins that I haven’t seen for years. I think fondly of family gatherings we had when young, I’m not sure that we’d have much in common now. I caught up with two of my cousins for coffee after Christmas, it was nice to see them but I don’t really feel very connected anymore, which is sad I suppose. I’m glad that you got to exchange letters. Take care, Jen

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    • Thank you Jen for those thoughtful comments.
      I guess kids have a lot in common just because they are kids, but as we get older we change.
      My situation was made a little more complicated because I was adopted into an Italian [second generation] family. My father was the oldest son of an oldest son and his ancestors came from a small island off the coast of Sicily. My mum didn’t like my dad’s family very much but she almost managed to hide it.
      I’ve never felt the need to belong to a huge family group but I do look back fondly at that time.
      Amazingly, when my mum died, a LOT of my dad’s relatives turned up to the funeral service…….. I was very moved. Mum threatened to haunt me if I invited them! I have to say that I admired them for coming. They must have known that mum was uncomfortable around them, but they came out of respect. I’m glad that they did as my eulogy was always meant to honour both of my parents [I was too distraught to speak at my father’s funeral], so I’m glad that they were there to hear how much I loved and admired both of my parents.
      My cousins and I were close when we were young but I guess we got caught up in life and drifted apart.
      It makes me sad but that’s ok; sadness is all part of the experience.
      Thanks again for taking the time.
      Terry

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