Given that my mother had five brothers and my father fractions
of siblings you would think I’d have had cousins by the dozens. I
probably do but I’ve never met them.
My mother created a mystery in our family by not speaking to
her brothers in those years of my growing up. Not Harry or
Irving or Mickey, Sammy or Nat. It has left me wondering what
sort of treachery those guys were up to. Did they put a
in her porridge? Or dip her pigtails in the inkwell of life?
In fact, I have a fuzzy memory of my grandma and grandpa
living with us when I was about five years old. My theory is
when they died, my mother paid for the tombstone and her
brothers-five never came through with their share. My mother
was not one to let go of a grudge.
Whatever damage those nasty brothers did, my mother went
through life in combat mode with a tongue sharp as a bayonet.
She stabbed the butcher with his finger of the scale. She pierced
the vitals of the super when he held back on the heat coming
through the radiator. She damned the neighbors and cursed God
for God knows what. Yet behind all that was the fear of a little
girl which I attribute to Harry, Irving etc… A simple case of post
traumatic familial syndrome.
My father was the Nobel Peace Prize winner of the family
system. Destitution of his early years somehow got translated
into equanimity. When I say fractions of brothers and sisters, I
refer to his three half-brothers and one half-sister from a father
who had gave him up to be raised by an aunt and uncle and then
went on to have 4 more children all raised in an orphanage.
I shouldn’t put all the blame on my absent cousins. I left New
York at age 21 and settled in Los Angeles. I sought the seclusion
that a cabin grants…away from my sisters and my cousins and my
aunts……..to paraphrase G&S’s HMS Pinafore. I made no
effort to seek them out nor did they. I wonder if they hold
annual cousin gatherings with an empty chair set aside for me to
come busting up through the cake.
It’s been a cousin-less life for me except for one. Irving’s
daughter Mildred holds a special place though I have only a
picture of her with my brother, and me off to the side, around
age five. They were both about four years older than I.
Mildred famously did not marry. When I got up the nerve to call
my aunt Anna about thirty years ago to inquire about a possible
blight in the family tree I asked about Cousin Mildred. You
know, Anna said, she never got married. And so, Mildred was
henceforth to be known as Mildred-Who-Never-Got Married.
Good for you, Cuz. You answered your own drummer.
The road to cousinhood may be a happy union. John and Abigail
Adams were 3rd cousins. Obama is cousin to six other
On the other hand, monarchs in England, Germany and Russia
were cousins whose family squabble killed over twenty million in
World War One. I might be better off going it alone.