“Do you remember me?” I remember asking Amanda.
“Kinda,” she answered.
Amanda was exactly ten days older than me and she and I had met once before, at my Mom’s boyfriend’s house. When he was still married to a woman named Jean, and my Mom was still married to my Dad, Todd.
“We met once at Bobby’s,” I said.
“We call him Uncle Rob,” she exclaimed.
“Can we call him Uncle Rob, too?” my sister, Lindsey chimed in.
“Lindsey and I used to call him Mr. D, but that would just feel weird now, I guess.”
That made the three of us laugh.
It was the summer before third grade and Amanda and I were both eight, and our younger siblings, Andrew and Lindsey were both six. Our parents had agreed to get the four us together at the Ashburnham lake house that Bob’s family affectionately referred to as “Camp.”
Camp was pure heaven. Complete with everything any kid would need to take full advantage of a New England summer. Sand, water, fishing poles, bait, Wiffle ball, snorkels, flippers, a speed boat, tubes, rafts, water skis – and what I considered the “original” GE refrigerator.
Nestled down in the basement to the left of the stairs, that ancient piece of well-made machinery kept cans of soda so cold it turned the fruity flavored Market Basket generics into the most divine slush that’s ever passed through these lips.
And at night when the bugs made it absolutely impossible to enjoy one more minute by the fire, there was UNO. And Jenja. And Perfection. And Chinese Checkers. And regular checkers. And Monopoly…of course Monopoly.
Amanda, her brother Andrew, my sister Lindsey and me became first cousins that summer. Two whole years before our Mom and their Uncle exchanged their official “I dos,” and toasted their union at that very same lake house where my Dad, Bob would introduce the three of us to our extended family.
With 27 years now come and gone since since that first summer we connected at Camp, it feels more than ever like we’ve always just been a part of each other.
I spent most of today thinking about that first summer, because today is my cousin Amanda’s birthday – and up until very recently I carried an immense amount of guilt about not giving my son a brother or a sister.
I know that cousins aren’t siblings. But, technically speaking, nearly all of my “cousins” aren’t even my “real” cousins – but yet, they remain some of my most favorite, dependable, remarkable, and generous connections.
Cousins are irreplaceable – and I’ve been gifted some of the best…and subsequently, so has my son.
So, here’s to Amanda – and to cousins – and to life being so very good today.