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Ann Bailey: Cousin connections stay strong through the years

Ann Bailey

Taking a summer vacation wasn't much of an option for our family during the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up on the farm. Between taking care of cattle and raising crops, there wasn't time to get away for more than a day or two.

I never felt deprived, though. Chores, horseback riding and reading filled my days and visits from my two sets of city cousins, one from Great Falls, Mont., and the other from Milwaukee, also provided diversion every summer. Patti, Greg, Michelle and Joe and their mom Mary from Great Falls and Kris, Susan and Mary, from Milwaukee and their mom Joan spent a couple of weeks each summer visiting my great-aunt (my cousins' grandma). During the time my cousins visited, my sister Bonnie and I only had to do the essential chores and we spent the rest of the time playing with our cousins. We took them horseback riding, collected the eggs, played kickball and built tree forts during the week and on Sunday my mom hosted big picnics.


The annual cousins' visits continued until we graduated from high school. After that, we still kept in touch, mostly through Christmas cards and our moms who wrote letters to each other. Then, nine years ago, our Milwaukee cousins' mom, Joan, died. Terry and his wife Marie and I decided to accompany my mom to Joan's funeral, and there, became reacquainted with my cousins. A couple of years later, I told Brian that I thought it would be fun to take Brendan, Thomas and Ellen on a vacation to Milwaukee to visit Kris, Sue and Mary and their families.

Just as we had fun in North Dakota doing farm things, we had a great time in Milwaukee doing city things: going to an amusement and water park and a performance of "Phantom of the Opera" at the theater and maneuvering through a sea of people at the Milwaukee State Fair during the week and, on the weekend, eating out at restaurants on the Lake Michigan waterfront. Our family liked the vacation so much it has become an annual event, and this month we took our seventh straight trip to Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Ellen and I, visited our Great Falls cousins Michelle and Patti and their mom, Mary, two falls ago and our family visited their brothers, Joe and Greg, now in Tucson, on a recent winter vacation. As they did when they went to Milwaukee, our children enjoyed going on new adventures in other parts of the country and meeting the extended family living there.

Spending time with cousins not only brings back good memories for the adults, it makes them for our children, forging their friendships and ensuring that the family ties will remain strong through at least one more generation. The older I get, the more I realize it's not as much how we spend the time with our cousins that matters, it's that we spend it.