Second Cousins Mean More Than You Know

Where did I come from? Which relatives do I look like?

I was 12 when I first met any of my dad's family. Raised in an orphanage, Daddy was separated from his sister and brother around 16. But he had persevered in his search for them, and in 1958 he found them living in Florida.

Daddy's sister, Lucinda (aka Lucy), her husband, and their daughter lived in Tampa, FL, and his brother, Fred and his wife and daughter, lived in Orlando. We traveled to meet them all.

Our first stop was in Tampa at Aunt Lucy's. In the back of my mind, I assumed Aunt Lucy would look like most of my relatives--slender and petite. Even my dad was small in stature but then his health had been poor since before I was born.

The slender and petite rankled my near adolescent mind as I was what I considered a "chunkette." I despised how I looked, especially at family gatherings. Based on my dad's slight build, I assumed his relatives would be the same.

Daddy and Aunt Lucy during a 1963 visit. Aunt Lucy was 67 at the time.

Daddy and Aunt Lucy during a 1963 visit. Aunt Lucy was 67 at the time.

I'll never forget as Aunt Lucy opened the door to our ringing the doorbell. There I stood with a few decades added on. I'm not sure if my gasp was audible, but I felt it. My existence as a "chunkette" was affirmed! Aunt Lucy was the relative I resembled.

That evening Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom's daughter, Jean, and her two daughters joined us for dinner. Jean was a lovely woman nearer my mother's age than mine, but she was my cousin despite the age difference. The second cousin relationship was explained to my brother and me as Jean introduced her daughters, Barbara and Sherrill.

Barbara was beautiful! Diminutive in size, blonde and tanned, and blue eyes, she could have been a model except for her height. At first, I could only focus on her with envy. Then Sherrill entered the dining room.

It happened again--I saw myself taking the chair beside me. We looked alike, both in facial features and stature. Our hands were almost identical in shape and size. Our names were even similar! How gracious God was to bring me two images of what I'd look like at Sherrill's age, then 22, and Aunt Lucy at 62.

I gloried in this new-found glimpse of people whom I favored. My gene pool could most definitely be found on Daddy's family tree. This was a happy moment.

Just a matter of time--all good things come to an end.

As time slipped by and we moved to Oregon from Tennessee, farther away from Florida and family, I kept in touch with my cousin, Jean. Not only a lovely woman but also gracious, Jean has always stayed in touch with me over the years. Her husband was killed in WWII leaving her with Barbara and Sherrill. When her parents left Kentucky for Florida, she moved her little family with them.

Over the years both my Aunt Lucy and  Uncle Tom passed away, and Jean's girls married and began their families leaving Jean in the spacious house in Tampa. Aunt Lucy's life ended at the same time Barbara's young daughter was killed in an automobile accident and shortly afterwards, Barbara ended her life.

This meant Jean and my second cousin, Sherrill, were my only family members left on Daddy's side. His brother Fred had also passed away and his family chose not to stay connected with us.

Jean had mentioned in letters Sherrill's poor health over the last almost seven years. Yet she never mentioned specifics, and I didn't ask.

Knowing I owed Jean a letter, I laughed when Bob handed me another letter from her in Friday's mail. I was certain she was reminding me of my tardiness. As I opened the envelope, a clipping from the Tampa newspaper fell out. Only it wasn't just any clipping. It was Sherrill's obituary. Now, she too is gone. My mirror images have faded away in Aunt Lucy and Sherrill. But my memories of them have not faded. I'm so grateful for the few images I have of Aunty Lucy, and somewhere (don't ask!) I have a photo of Sherrill and me.

At 100 this month, my cousin, Jean, is my last living relative on the Adams side of my family history. I spoke with her by phone on Saturday, and we laughed over my adolescent need to "identify" myself with some family member. We agreed I couldn't have chosen two more delightful women to look like and with whom to share common interests.

My cousin, Jean Shivell Bell, in 2006 at age 91.

My cousin, Jean Shivell Bell, in 2006 at age 91.

Whatever you do don't waste an opportunity to stay in touch with family.

Time is short. Days fly by. We get busy and think about people, especially family, but often it gets lost in the next task or errand. I had not seen Sherrill since 1976, and our lives had grown apart due to age difference and lifestyles. Not a good reason not to try to contact her now and then.

Because time flies by, don't waste an opportunity to write, email, or call that family member who just crossed your mind.

Is there someone you should get in touch with sooner than later?