Friday, August 03, 2007

Living History

I took the day off today to go visit with my 99 year old cousin.

Officially she's my first cousin once removed. I don't pay much attention to that because it doesn't mean much to me. But she means everything. She's so alive. So vibrant. So eager.

She was certainly all set to go out with us when my mother (a youthful 87) and I arrived. So we headed over to the one restaurant in town "to beat the crowd."

There are probably less than 1000 people in this town. The restaurant was very very crowded. And not because it's the only one there (which it may be). It's crowded because it's a great place to go and the food is super.

So is the town. It's a small picture perfect Iowa town where, every time I go to have lunch with her, I look around and think how much I would like to take all my overseas visitors there. To the whole town, of course, but to this restaurant in particular.

It's so quintessentially American with its old pressed tin ceiling and its old fancy carved wooden bar with the mirror behind. It's so down to earth. So local. There are always plenty of farmers coming in to grab dinner when they're at the supply store or at the welding shop or hardware store. There are lots of kids with baseball caps. It's a place where you can a real made-to-order hamburger with whatever you want on it. Or you can get the full roast beef dinner special for $5.50. And if you ask for a glass of water, the waitress actually remembers to bring it before she runs off to grab the next orders.

It goes without saying that the food was great. And, of course, my cousin knows 85% of the people in there. She used to know them all. But there have been a few newcomers in recent years and she doesn't get out quite as much.

She still plays bridge, though. And bingo. And she keeps up the family albums and can tell you exactly when each of her six brothers and sisters got married and to whom (well, most of them married her husband's sisters and brothers). She has pictures of four and five generations of family on her walls, on her shelves, on her bookcases. And she can tell you the name of every kid, grandkid, great-grandkid and great-great grandkid, every aunt, uncle and cousin, every niece and nephew.

My mother said, on the way home, "My, she has a big family, doesn't she?"

"She does," I said, "And so, by extension, do you."

My mother blinked as if she hadn't quite thought about that. But of course, it's true. She's related to them all. So am I. So, probably, are you.

That's the great thing about family. It's infinitely expandable. There's always room for one more -- or a dozen more. Or more than that. It's all about personal connections and acknowledging them as such. Pushed far enough I suppose it really encompasses the whole world.

Works for me.

Anyway, it was a great day. I love visiting her. And, believe me, I'll be going back to celebrate her 100th birthday next June!


Blogger Kate Hardy said...

Glad you had such a lovely day.

Am intrigued by the tin ceiling - I haven't heard of this before so I'd love to know more.

And also... I never thought of this before but you're probably the person who can explain to me about first cousins, second cousins, once removed etc. I know it'll probably take an essay, but if you get the time and don't mind the distraction I would LOVE to know!

03 August, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...


Try this site:

That should give you a short link to a site on pressed tin ceilings, thus telling you more than you ever wanted to know.

We'll discuss the cousin thing another time. I need to brush up, but my understanding is that if my mother is her first cousin, and I am one generation removed from her, then she is my first cousin once removed. Her son is the same to my mother, but he's the same generation as me, so I believe he is then my 'second' cousin because we have to go back another generation to find our 'common ancestor.'

If someone else has a better idea - or explanation, feel free to jump in!

03 August, 2007  
Blogger Kate Hardy said...

Thank you, Anne :o)

05 August, 2007  

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