Friday, September 27, 2013

Family Bonds--Fast Forwarding the Years

Getting together with my first cousins in August reminded me of how quickly time passes, leaving memories a bit faded, but the impressions as vivid as ever.  We shared a few precious visits together during our youngest years, and they were very bonding experiences.  One visit occurred when I was about two and a half years old.  Dad drove me down to Campbell, California from our home in Richmond so that I could stay with my mother's sister, Phyllis Rice, while Mom was in the hospital for a routine procedure.

Although I do not remember the exact event, my cousin Cheryl tells me that before Dad even left to go back home, Cheryl and I managed to get into a jar of Vaseline and experimented with it as beauty cream and hair gel.  She chided me that while Dad took me immediately to the bathtub to scrub the sticky grease out of my hair, she was left to deal with her own unfortunate circumstances.  Being the only girl in a family with two boys, she was often expected to be a tad more responsible than her years.  She probably also had to look out for me after Dad's departure, being the elder of us two girls.  Ah, the unfairness of childhood.  And, we were off to such a fine start with the Vaseline incident!  I'm sure that Dad drove away wondering if Aunt Phyllis would ever want to babysit me again.

"Our Gang" in 1956

Three siblings and a first cousin at the Rice home in Campbell, California, 1956.  Left to right:  Curtis Rice, Chery Wheeler (me), Craig Rice, and Cheryl Rice.  Cheryl and I are wearing matching dresses with multi-colored pockets, made for us by my mom.

My cousins and I had a grand time during those visits in Campbell.  I have always felt sorry that my sister was born a few years too late to be a part of it all.  We were all about the same age, with Craig born the same year as me, Cheryl one year older, and Curtis, the eldest, was two years older.  We often resembled a step ladder while standing all together.  I was a little frightened and lonely after Dad drove off and left me behind for that first stay of about a week.  Being so young, I did not understand what had probably been explained to me quite thoroughly, about staying with my aunt and cousins for a short period of time until my parents could return for me.

That visit at age 2-something is the first real memory I have of my aunt and cousins, though they were familiar to me at the time from our earlier get-togethers in Richmond, where my parents lived and where my Aunt Phyllis lived before moving to Hanford, and then Campbell.  After allowing myself to mope a little about being left behind, I set about to have some fun with my cousins.  We spent hours tearing around as Cowboys and Indians, and climbed on the dead tree trunk in the yard.  We scrounged for prune plums through and over the fence of a nearby orchard, and hunted polliwogs, caterpillars, and other unsuspecting creatures.  We caught glimpses of shows like "Annie Oakley" and "Tugboat Annie" on my aunt's console television while waiting to get our hair washed in the huge laundry room sink.  At meal times, I admired the multi-colored octagonal Fiesta ware plates that my food was served on.  I was just starting to get used to the idea of hanging out with my cousins when my parents returned to take me home again.

"Our Gang" in 2013

Three siblings and a first cousin at the wedding of Matthew and Chelsea (Johnson) Rice in Aurora, Oregon, August 17, 2013.  Left to right:  Curtis Rice, Chery (Wheeler) Kinnick, Cheryl (Rice) Nibler, and Craig Rice (father of the groom). Although it was not planned, Cheryl and I are again wearing clothes with  a similar pattern and colors!

I still enjoy hanging out with my cousins whenever I have the opportunity, which has not been frequent due to our inevitably busy family lives and work schedules, plus the driving distance between states.  But, we have found ourselves in each other's company a couple of times over the past several years, as our children graduate from college and settle down to married life.  Soon, those children will have children of their own, and there will be new little cousins to form bonds with each other.  The importance of extended family is sadly neglected in the increasing busy-ness of modern life.  But, I can say that whether my cousins and I are near or far from each other, it is comforting just knowing that Curtis, Cheryl, and Craig are out there, sharing some of the same childhood memories and family experiences.  I hope we will continue to have many such reunions as the years progress, though our activities and conversations are bound to be a bit more sedate than those of decades past!

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