Saturday, September 6, 2008


If you are part of my family you will recognize this photo as being of "the Four Cousins." If you are not, then let me explain this picture. First, it was taken several years ago and probably isn't the picture any of us would like you to see - but it is the only one we have with the four of us. We have all changed somewhat since then. It was taken on a very hot, sultry day in Orange County, and as far as I am concerned, it is a fairly grim photo. But we do have to own it, that's for sure.

I am sitting in the white shirt. I am the oldest cousin. My cousin Shirlee, who is standing behind me, is the next cousin in age. She is the one who now lives in North Carolina. My cousin Sharon, standing next to Shirlee, is younger still, and cousin Nancy, sister of Shirlee and seated in blue, is the "baby" of the group. The four of us all were born between 1935 and 1947. My sister Ginnie, who died in 2004, would have fallen into this age group.

Our mothers were sisters. Our grandma Jessie had four daughters. The youngest daughter did not have children. We have a great picture of grandma Jessie and her girls -- taken, I'd guess, in the mid 1930s if one can judge by the hair styles and the clothes.

Shirlee and Nancy's mom, Marie, is on the left. My mother, Virginia, is next to her. Grandma Jessie is in the middle. Sharon's mother, Florence, is next to Grandma, and little Margie, the youngest daughter, is hanging on Florence's arm. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that the occasion of this photo was that Aunt Florence had come to California from Kansas on a visit

Anyway, now you know the Aunts and the Cousins. Cousin Sharon was raised in Kansas, Texas and Colorado. The rest of us were all Californians. When the Ryland family moved from Kansas to California in 1931, they settled in Long Beach, and I grew up with a passel of cousins close at hand. Grandma Jessie had two sons who were born in between Marie and Margie - and those fellows also lived in California and added more cousins to the mix, although they were a bit younger than this first batch of cousins.

The point I am making is that for the most part, we had shared childhoods. Sharon's family came to California every year for a vacation and she was also a part of our growing up. And now for the past 10 years, more or less, she herself has lived in California, which is why we are able to have our wonderful "Cousin Brunch" every other month. Shirlee was able to participate before she moved, and of course we keep her updated on what we talk about at these brunches.

And what is it we talk about? Family, first. Old times, second. Then Books. Genealogy. Ikebana. Travel. Politics. Art. Everything is on the table, and we find much to laugh at. We have made lots of discoveries -- such as Sharon had the old family bible but I had the "family records" that had been torn out of it sometime in the past. (They are now reunited). Nancy has given Sharon a picture of her mom as a tiny girl that had been in the possession of Aunt Marie for many years. Nancy didn't even know who it was, but I matched the picture up with some old ones in the family album and confirmed that it indeed was wee Florence at 18 months old. We have come up with a photograph of a lovely young girl who was thought to be our Grandma Jessie but I'm still trying to prove my theory that it is, in fact, Louise Hall Ryland. Every time we meet for brunch one of us brings a "Show and Tell" -- and I'll tell you we've had a lot of fun with those things, even if they don't pertain to family.

Some time back I found the picture below in, I think, Vanity Fair magazine. The minute I laid eyes on it I knew it was the four cousins in our next iteration. It made me laugh a lot. I won't tell you which one I think is me. Each cousin probably has her own opinion of who is who. When you get right down to it, I think it is a much more flattering picture than the one at the top of this column where we all look so ..... so..... grim, I think is the word.

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