Choosing Cousins

The clues hinting to the location of the next “Eight and Up” trip are streaming in, so my kids are getting excited about the annual trip with their paternal grandparents and cousins, all of whom they adore.

I’m so happy my children have cousins they can relate to, in our town, in my hometown and in Albuquerque. When I was young, I believed that cousins my age would make my life complete.

patty_duke_cousinsIn fact, I was always a bit envious of the “two” girls on “The Patty Duke Show” re-runs (“still, they’re cousins, identical cousins…”) and neighbors who had close relatives. It seemed so fun.

My father’s half-brother was 15 years his senior, so his three daughters are quite a bit older than my siblings and me.

My mother’s younger brother married almost 15 years after she did, when I was in second grade, so didn’t provide sons in time to help my cause.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful stand-in, Ann, who was handed to me when my family landed in the Chicago area on the eve of my kindergarten debut.

Unlike Patty Duke and Cathy, my friend Ann and I look nothing alike, and, in truth, don’t have many interests in common. Still, we’re “cousins,” and share a history and closeness that would rival any relative’s.

Our families met in Boston, where my mom – in addition to mothering six children ages eight and under – worked as a church organist, and Ann’s father, Dick, was the choir director. Our parents became fast friends, and we often gathered after church for coffee and donuts.

Ann’s oldest brother was a perfect match for my second oldest, and her other brother is the same age as my oldest sister. So, times together were full of laughter and adventure.

Later, when both families ended up in the Chicago area, without other relatives close by, we became family, and for several decades, spent every holiday together, from Christmas, through Easter and July 4, to Labor Day.

My father passed away in 1982, after taking ill during an evening spent with Ann’s parents, and her father died of cancer 10 years later. Needless to say, both families were in full attendance at both memorial services, and we all shared in both losses.

My mother and Ann’s remain best friends to this day. For some 20 years, they spent every Wednesday together at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, working as docents. Several years ago, they moved to the Chicago Historical Society.

Ann and I could walk to each other’s homes at an early age, and often did. We joined the YMCA swim team and middle-school club together, attempted ballet classes, shared babysitting clients, rode our bikes to the beach and took the bus downtown for frozen cokes and hot dogs. Ann saved her gum wrappers for my gum-wrapper chain.

During high school, we participated in the same youth group, but slowly grew apart. Our families still gathered on holidays, but we didn’t share much one-on-one time otherwise.

In the long run, those years were of little consequence. When we were juniors in college, Ann set off for Spain and I to France, and, aside from visiting each other’s new locales, we traveled through Italy during an extended school break. We experienced Carnevale in Venice and the ruins in Rome, and never stopped laughing. We still haven’t shared all of our stories with our mothers, but the memories keep us smiling whenever we get together.

Ann_Rosewall_003When Ann got engaged, she asked me to serve as her maid of honor. When it was my turn, I was honored to have Ann perform the ceremony (she was then “just” an ordained minister; she now has a Ph.D in divinity). Friends across the country still recall her moving, heart-felt homily.

I traveled to Texas to see Ann’s baby girl, and was able to simultaneously show off the girth that contained my first son. When my husband was ill, Ann flew to Seattle to spend a week supporting me and my three young boys.

We still get together, most years, on the Fourth of July.

Today, on Ann’s birthday, I celebrate her, real cousins and the cousins that we claim as our own. They definitely enrich our lives. Ann, I’m looking forward to dinner on Friday night. (Oh, and a very happy 70th birthday to my teen idol, Bobby Sherman, too!)

Linda Williams Rorem, 22 July 2013


  1. Rev. Ann Rosewall says:

    Dearest Friend, Linda “J,”
    This is the most amazing gift I could have received this year! It will only be topped by seeing you soon. Wonderful memories, truth-filled reflections, and… oh yes, now I have the Patty Duke theme song stuck in my head! (a hot dog does make me lose control, BTW)
    May your children and mine find cousins outside the family as precious as you and I have found.
    Much love,

  2. Diane Rosewall says:

    What a glowing testimony to friendship,relations and love. Love you too girl.

  3. Carrie Lovsted says:

    Love this posting! Cousins are magical! It is great to have them on this small island!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Alan Williams says:

      Yeah, the “Cousin” thing is cool and like you, because I’m your brother, I had the same void in my life. No in-town blood cousins to play and compare “growing up” notes with, unlike many of the kids we knew in our hometown. But for me, anyway, it wasn’t the Patty Duke Show that got me thinking about what having cousins at arms reach could lead to. It was Bewitched! Remember Serena, Samantha’s Steven’s sa-mokin’ dark hired cousin? Well, I do, and, trust me on this one, so do ALL of the middle-aged men reading your blog. She was everything we guys wanted Samantha to be. Serena was a little (a lot) flirtatious and not at all afraid to use her magic, unlike her blonde and restrained goody-two-shoes cousin, Sam. Yeah. Even in the 3rd grade I knew Darin had blown that one and married the wrong cousin. He would have had a lot more fun with Serena, and it would have been a better show. That’s probably why they fired Dick York and hired Dick Seargent to be the new Darin. After Serena showed up, there was no taking “Derwood #1” seriously.

      • I’m sure you’re right about the Serena thing, Al. Most of us middle-aged women were more focused on Tabitha, though, and missed Serena’s charms. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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