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Reunion shows memories sometimes better than realities

When I planned a visit to my daughter in Ferndale, Washington, I asked my younger California daughter to join me. In turn, her 18-year-old daughter suggested they make it a road trip before she enters college in the fall. And so, a mother-daughter, granddaughter trip was formed.

Before I left home, I asked my two women cousins if they could meet us for lunch in Port Townsend, a few hours from Ferndale. They responded with enthusiasm, and to my delight a cousin wave formed when the lunch included their spouses, a daughter and a son and a brother, too.

I yearned for connection and was anxious for my girls to experience time with the extended family. Excited, I scouted a restaurant online and made reservations for 11 of us.

In our shared childhood in Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula, there were occasional all-family summer picnics; on Easter we played tag, and hide-and-seek in our grandmother’s yard; on rainy Christmas get-togethers we colored and did puzzles on the floor of her small cottage while the grownups talked around the dining table. We hunted for trilliums in the woods and caught salamanders in Mason jars.

While everyone grew up in Port Angeles, only one cousin and her family remained there. One emigrated north to Canada; my brother and I separately moved south to the San Francisco area in our 20s; one settled in the backwoods of Skagit County, and the youngest cousin in the Seattle area. We all attended the same church as kids, however, there, too, we scattered in different directions.

On the day of the luncheon my daughters and granddaughter drove two hours to the Coupeville ferry, parked the car and boarded as walk-on passengers to Port Townsend. I told my cousin what time we were taking the ferry and hoped she and her family would meet us so we could visit during the crossing. When I didn’t see them, I texted them. They had taken an earlier ferry. I stared at the text. Oh. I shrugged off the sting and moved closer to the girls, or had they moved closer to me?

At the restaurant were first-, second- and third-generation cousins. The conversations were easy, skimming across time, speed reading one anothers’ lives. I felt like a sunflower turning to face the sun as I looked up and down the table. There was a flicker of our mothers in their faces; I was aware of memories of the men fishing with my father.

There was a plan for my two cousins to visit me in the fall. Earlier in the year I bought flex tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays in anticipation. Now, after our food orders came, one said, “Well, this takes the place of our coming down in the fall,” and the other continued eating. The news hit the pit of my stomach. I choked down a mouthful of hamburger and said, “Lunch doesn’t really take the place of being in our pajamas watching Netflix movies!”

When our two-hour lunch finished, I thought everyone would walk around the shops together and get an ice cream, however, they wanted to get home. After a group mobile phone photo, the girls and I were left standing on the sidewalk. The sense of loss was as if the arteries carrying the family blood had been severed and time had ceased to operate.

We began walking toward the shops when the girls asked, “What do you think they think of us?”

After a short pause I smiled and realized in relief that I really didn’t care. I suddenly let go of the force of family and how it can hurt as well as heal. After all, I thought, cousins are without any real obligation to enhance meaning in my life. Although I was disappointed that my expectations didn’t match theirs, we all made an effort, had driven a long way from our homes to greet each other with, and leave with, affectionate hugs.

On the return ferry crossing, seagulls and seabirds glided in and out, soaring across one another’s flight paths. My cousins and me, like a flock of mixed seabirds, vary in lifestyle and migration patterns; we nested beside one another, grew up, and found our own niches in life.

Judy Ticehurst lives in Medford.

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