Everyone says that cousins were marrying cousins. According to family lore, my great grandfather wanted a more diverse bloodline for his grandchildren. When he married in 1859 he moved from Maryland to Lawrence, Kansas in a horse-drawn wagon . Medicine, technology, and accessibility of the times around the 1860’s must have dictated the design of family lives back then because only two of their five children survived.
The family of four packed up and took the KP Railroad to the end of the line in eastern Colorado in 1872.
From there they set out in a covered wagon to make their home in Trinidad, Colorado and became one of the first 500 pioneer families in the state.
Great grandfather was a builder by trade so he built a one-room adobe home. In 1879 he enlarged their dwelling with clapboard. The little home metamorphosed into a Victorian Style home with a steeple and, in front, native Colorado sandstone steps with a retaining wall. After their deaths, the house became the home of their son, his wife and their eight children. My father was one of those eight grandchildren who was born and lived in my great grandparent’s home.
This November the last of the eight grandchildren died. My aunt lived in this home since her birth in 1918. Now the home belongs legally and physically to her two daughters. But it always belonged emotionally to all the living great grandchildren. We were known as the twenty-one cousins.
We ran up and down the polished hallway floors and stairs. We spent hours on the front porch getting to know each other by topping each others stories about where we lived and what we did. Some of us climbed on the railings, older cousins hogged the porch swing, and the little ones practiced hoping off the steps.
When the cold mountain air brought snows to the peaks, I hurried to be one of the first up in the morning. Even then I loved the smell of morning coffee. I’d tip-toe down the stairs and watch Grandmother sprinkle cold water on the cast-iron stove. When the beads of water danced she’d smile at me, pour out pools of pancake batter, and slide the first golden-brown one on my plate.
One night she beckoned me to move from the children’s dinner table up to the huge dining-room table for adults. She indicated my place between two uncles. My older brothers sat across the table from me. My toddler brother remained at the children’s table. I guess I was known as a jabberer, but that night I couldn’t eat nor speak. I listened and grinned ear to ear.
After the graveside services, my Aunt’s daughters and their spouses hosted a dinner at the family home for the cousins. They know of our attachment to this old place, this historical place where now no one lives, this headache that’s soon going to require mega-bucks to maintain and repair, this treasured home with a past but no future.
We accepted the dinner invitation grateful for their generosity. Believe me, no money can purchase what a few moments in this sanctuary is worth to all of us.
I glanced around the house. Little had changed from when our own Grandmother lived there and when our parents visited. The rocking chair was still in the dining room where Grandmother rocked my father when he was a baby and where my daughter once fed and rock my new grandson. It waited by the bay window–a futile wait to soothe the next mother and baby.
We who traveled to attend the services and stayed for the dinner asked our cousins the usual questions to re-acquaint ourselves from months and years of not seeing each other. After dinner we settled in the parlor with deserts, coffee, and wine.
I watched and listened to the murmur of conversations with the occasional spontaneous laugh or a nervous explanation of something. Then someone’s voice would resonate throughout the room about some absurd happening in our family followed by a chorus of laughter.
Long ago in silence, wearing flannel pajamas, I huddled on that upstairs landing with my nose pressed between the balustrades. I hadn’t wanted to miss those muffled but wonderful stories rising from the adults below.
Sitting in this room with my cousins, now, was an echo, like a flood of warmth from our past. Each of us had been transported into the future. Our voices now parallel the voices of years ago, the voices of our parents, aunts, and uncles.
A shiver passed over me. We were now the adults staying up late into the night telling stories below. At that moment in the parlor listening to my cousins, I knew I’d once more been beckoned to leave the children’s table and directed to join the table of adults. Like before, my stomach knotted, I had no words–this time I did not smile.
We search, as writers, for unique moments that might be used to turn into stories. I believe all of us have a pantry fully lined with rich moments, good, bad, happy or sad, that might hold the ingredients for a tale that’s worthy to be told. What do you have in your pantry?