Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Definition of Family

My niece's husband is coming to see us today. We haven't met him yet but we're prepared to love him instantly, simply because he loves my niece. It's not often we get family coming up here to visit us, and I'm excited to have him come.

I have discovered after twenty-five years of living outside of Utah that I define family differently from other people. Especially when it comes to cousins. When people ask me how many cousins I have, I seriously don't know. I know there were about 48 first-cousins on Dad's side, a smaller number on Mom's side...but I also count second and third and fourth cousins as "cousin." I went to high school with my half-third-cousins-once-removed and we simply called each other, affectionately, "cuz." Still do. And thought of each other as siblings more than cousins.

Family are the people you would do anything for and love no matter what. I like the idea that, even with half-third-cousins, I can walk up to their door and they will welcome me in like a long-lost favourite. I remember once when I was a young teen, the doorbell rang and an unfamiliar man stood on the step. I was home alone at the time. The man said, "I've been driving all night and I need a place to sleep for a bit." And then he walked in like he knew the place, went straight to the couch in the basement, and fell asleep. Of course I was nervous and didn't know what to do, so I closed the basement door and sat down to wait for my mother to come home. When she came, I told her a total stranger was sleeping on the couch downstairs. Mom took a peek and then said airily, "Oh, that's your cousin Jerry." Well, he's not technically a cousin. Distant relative, but that's what she called him. And based on that, he felt welcome to drop in for a nap and assume it was fine. And it was, no questions asked. I like that.

Living near Toronto, I bump into people from all over the world. We compare notes when we hear we have a Utah connection, and more often than not we're descended from some common ancestor. And we're instantly friends...but more than that, we're family. We swap stories and contact information. I sometimes bring them home for dinner and talk, and it's a wonderful thing. I once even bumped into a relative when we were in Hawaii. What are the odds of that? Well, when you come from a family the size of mine, I guess it's not that surprising.

I tell my children that they have hundreds of relatives all over the place, and if they ever need help, they can go to one of them for assistance. And it's a great feeling to know that they can. They will never need to feel alone.

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