The Last One

The last of a generation in my large Boyd family passed away last week, and I’m just beginning to understand what an enormous loss it is for us cousins. When Aunt Ruth flew off into the blue beyond to see what’s next, she took with her the answers to our questions about our parents’ generation and questions about remembrances of our childhoods.

The Boyd brothers returned from World War II and made up for lost time, marrying and having large families. They maintained family ties, played penny-ante poker together at kitchen tables, ate picnics in the park while keeping tabs on little kids, and as a group in our living room watched the Friday night fights (brought to you by Gillette—♪to look sharp and feel sharp, too…♪).

For years now each September the Boyd clan meets for a day of good picnic food under tall oak trees, outstanding music from a cobbled-together cousins band, and retold stories of our childhoods. The first cousins (there are fortysome of us) started this annual event to become reacquainted. We’d grown into adulthood, and with jobs and marriages and children, we’d lost touch with our small town Arkansas roots and each other. Those roots included the same first grade teacher for a lot of us. In my year in Mrs. Hendrickson’s class of maybe fifteen kids, four of us were first cousins. (I had two other first cousins my age who had already moved away.)

Our cousin stories about when so many of us lived in Arkansas are peppered with incidents that have grown bigger and wider, just like fish stories. At the reunions, the older generation, including my folks, would add context to our memories since we all remembered things a bit differently.

After all, we each view life through just one set of eyes, which focus on me, me, me. We share our observations of events with others who were there, but their views don’t resemble our own in every detail. And it’s not important that every fact of our memories match up. What matters is the emotion, the tone, the humor and the pathos that wrapped us all together.

That older generation was the arbiter of our childhood memories. They were our lifelines and our safety nets. Their intertwined sibling lives kept us cousins together. Now what? Will we drift apart as extended families often do?