I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I viewed Clara and Emily through awe-colored glasses, ever amazed by their wit, beauty, intelligence. They were only a few years older than me and they were my cousins. Mine.
Their parents divorced the year I was born. The girls consequently grew up on the East Coast, interspersed with time with their dad in Wisconsin. I saw Clara and Emily at Christmas and the other occasional holiday, some regular summer visits, too. We treasured being all together, this mass of Petits descending on my grandparents' house ready to eat and play and talk for hours.
I don't know how much I talked at family gatherings in my younger years. I wanted to soak everyone up and I also wasn't sure what I had to contribute. I was plain old me and everyone else was fascinating. There was no competition, no one making me feel “less than,” but I couldn't compete, especially with my dazzling cousins. Nor did I want to. I paid close attention to Clara and Emily's jokes and music recommendations and anything else they wanted to share. Maybe in hopes their awesomeness would rub off on me but also because time together was precious. I might not see them again for another six months or a year.
When my uncle remarried, the girls and a couple of their friends choreographed a dance at the reception. They stood on the steps outside the house and I don't remember the song that played but I can still picture them swaying and smiling on that humid day.
We're the only girl cousins and so for the many holidays and birthday parties Clara and Emily couldn't attend, it was me and the boys. Somewhere along the way, we grew up. Their visits became less frequent once they reached high school. I don't remember the last time they celebrated Christmas with us. Even so, I looked up to them. I still do.
They've been back to visit a handful of times this past decade. A family reunion, a quick weekend to say goodbye to our grandmother and then a week later for her funeral. They live in San Francisco and it's not cheap to fly back to the Midwest. They've missed out on the garden variety gatherings. Adam's wedding and my brother's, too. They couldn't come back for our cousin's funeral or Aunt Sue's, nor the funerals for so many great-aunts and great-uncles.
While home for Thanksgiving, Uncle Bud told me Clara, her boyfriend, and their baby boy were coming to visit the week after Christmas. We hadn't seen each other since Grandma's funeral 5 years ago. There was no way I'd miss out on the chance to see them; their visit would be my last hurrah before returning home to Nashville. Even better: Emily joined in on the fun, freshly back from Europe.
The first Saturday in January, the whole family (minus my brother and sister-in-law) convened at Grandpa's house. We ate and talked and laughed for hours. I snuggled almost 1 year old Henry any chance I could get. I talked with Clara's boyfriend about books and writing and, oddly enough, Scientology. (Look, I am strangely fascinated by Scientologists and I wanted a Californian perspective.) I looked around the room, overwhelmed by the love it contained.
And I caught up with my California cousins.
I'll always be a bit in awe of them. How could I not be? They are amazing women. But now I see our similarities. I see how I have just as much to offer and the way they look forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing them.
We've all ended up forging our own path. What are the odds?
Clara co-owns her business The Wedding Party. She started out as an employee and then she and her partner bought it out. And they've made it work! I secretly dream of some day flying out to the store to pick out my dress or the bridesmaid dresses. She's an amazing mother. I loved seeing the way she and Wallie take care of their son.
Then there's Emily. She started working with a rock band. Did she know anything about the music industry beforehand? No, but she's figured out each step along the way. The band has wound up on some amazing tours and they've made friends in high places. I could listen to her stories all day.
As we sat across from each other, trading stories about work and our dreams, I marveled at who we are. There's no telling what all we'll accomplish.
Clara and Emily are two of my biggest fans. I never could have imagined this when I was little. I had no idea what I was capable of offering the world.
The day flew by far too fast. There's never enough time to talk, to be. One of these days I'll make it out to San Francisco for a visit. We'll look forward to the next gathering, whenever it may be.