I grew up in the middle of nowhere. A small town that you've probably never heard of in New York, about 15 minutes from the Pennsylvania border and about two hours from New York City. I lived about 4 miles outside of town on (I think) 100 acres. We couldn't see our neighbors, had plenty of fields and forest to play in. It was a great place to grow up and to use your imagination. My sister and I would turn our front yard into a castle with the area between the hedges and the driveway our secret passage to make our way to other parts of our domain. We would climb up into the large tree in our backyard, or sit on the large rock that sloped underneath it. During the winter, we'd make paths through the snow, snowmen at the edge of the hill to greet people passing on the road below, and snow angels throughout the fields. In spring, we'd find little strawberries to pick throughout our yard. Rarely did enough make it into the house, because I ate almost as many as I picked. Our front porch saw my attempts at roller skating, and many splinters from the wood found their way into my skin.
But my favorite time of year was the summer. My grandparents owned the valley below me and it seemed like all the property in the world belonged to them. They had a converted trailer that they lived in, a wonderful combination of prefab and rustic wood. Also in the valley was the old home they'd lived in, now owned by my dad's youngest brother and his wife (my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Laura, who were wonderfully wild and crazy... and honestly, still are). There currant bushes by my aunt and uncle's place, a garden near my grandparents, a pong within easy walking distance, and huge field that was made for running and playing in. Summer wasn't the only time I'd visit there - it was a regular place for me to be. But summer was when my cousins came to stay for what seemed like the whole summer. My cousin Jennie was a couple years older than me, and I wanted to be just like her. I followed her everywhere and she never seemed to mind. She, her sister Dawn (who was in between my sister and I age-wise), my sister and I would pretend to be Charlie's Angels (a show I never got to watch because we didn't get the station it was on, but which I would play anyway because it was so much fun playing with my cousins). We would pretend to swim in shark infested waters, pulling ourselves to safety on the "raft" (which was, in reality, the platform that my grandmother had to reach the clothesline). When we were older, we'd spend time in the camper that they'd sleep in, talking and chatting and just having the kind of fun that cousins do. And while I can't remember any specifics, I remember it being a happy time in my life.
This past week and a half, I've been reminded how special cousin time is. We've driven from Nashville to NJ and NY to spend time with our families and I've gotten to watch my boys have cousin time. For a week, they played with their cousin, Layla (my sister-in-law's daughter) at the beach in Ocean City. Teddy got to be the "big cousin", occasionally leading his brother and younger cousin in play. Though more often, it was Pete and Layla having fun together, playing games that only they seemed to know the rules to. This was a glimpse into my husband's childhood.
Then came the trip to the small town in New York that I'd called home. And I sat outside of both my mother's and my sister's homes, watching the four cousins play in similar ways to how my sister and I had. Oh, the games were different - they were playing Mario where Deni and I had played Dukes of Hazzard. But the imagination was still there. And sometimes, Teddy and his older cousin Gabe would dive into their electronics together while Pete and Mikayla (only a month apart in age) would take turns deciding what to play together. And as I watched them, I was brought back in time 30 years.
A part of me wishes we lived closer. I want to see my kids and my sister's, as well as my kids and Rich's sisters', grow up together. I want to see them know each other year round rather than for a few days or a week once a year. I want them to know what it's like to have cousins that you grow up with, cousins that you can talk to regularly. And barring that, I want to be able to visit for more than just a few days or a week. I want them to be together for what feels like the whole summer and hate having to go back to school because it means the end of the fun with their family. But it's not practical. We don't have the money to travel for that long and, at least in the case of my family, they don't have the room to put us up for that long. So I try to take as many pictures as I can, and try to let them make the most of the time they do have together. Because they deserve the same kind of memories, and, hopefully, will want the same thing for their own kids when they get older.