Statistics reveal that family sizes are shrinking around the world. In many countries, families are having fewer than two children — not just one child, mind you, but, according to the charts, 1.75 or 1.8.
I always worry about those fraction children.
Smaller families mean smaller extended families, with many children now growing up with fewer cousins, maybe one here and 1.8 over there. This is hard to imagine, as I come from a large extended family with 23 first cousins on one side and 25 on the other, which makes a grand total of 48.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I test my mental acuity by trying to name all my aunts and uncles and cousins. Then in the morning, I get up and wonder if I should make an appointment with a brain specialist.
Of course, almost all those 48 cousins have married and had children, and now their children are having children, and we have multiplied faster than cellphones.
With extended family growing so large and spreading so far, reunions have nearly become a thing of the past. One of the last reunions some time ago on my father’s side was at the home of a cousin who has a place in the country on top of a hill with surrounding acreage. A tent was set up for shade, a large equipment building held long tables creaking under the weight of fried chicken, potato salad and chocolate cake. A fishing hole waited nearby for the kids. Vehicles poured in from every direction, parking on the drive, the grass, wherever they could find a spot. There was talking and laughing and joking and food and more food. It was pitch black when the last set of taillights disappeared into the night.
While reunions have grown infrequent, funerals have not.
We have just returned from the funeral of a dearly loved man who was married to one of my cousins. He was the oldest of 12 siblings. It was a big funeral with streams of silent tears and muffled sobs.
There was a meal afterward because we are people who share the belief that food is an elixir in times of sorrow.
Although some of us have not seen one another since so-and-so’s wedding or somebody’s father’s funeral, most were still easy to recognize. Three sisters who sat together all have the same beautiful skin their mother had.
The cousin with bright blue eyes who barrel raced her horse as a teen still has bright blue eyes. An older cousin who gave me piano lessons when I was young and flighty didn’t seem to hold any grudges.
A smattering of cousins wore hearing aids, and some that didn’t probably should. Being that we share the same gene pool, the future suddenly looks somewhat, well, muted. But we also share a gene pool of people who work hard and laugh often.
As we gathered our things, said our goodbyes and prepared to leave, a cousin called to me saying, “Don’t forget where you came from.”
I never could. And I’d never try.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at email@example.com.