“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
― Frederick Buechner
My mom was the youngest of 12 kids – well, 14, actually, if you count the ones who died as infants. Her eldest sibling was 21 years old when Mom was born. In fact, she was already married by time Mom arrived.
And yet, throughout her life Mom was close to all of her siblings, and made sure that her children knew them and loved them as well. That says a lot about the importance of family to my parents and all of my kinfolk.
What that means for my siblings and me is that we have a lot of cousins. Thirty-two first cousins on my mother’s side if I’m counting correctly. And countless children of cousins.
We grew up and were friends with many of those cousins. However, we haven’t seen most of them for a very long time.
But Mom and Dad were our models. Though we haven’t seen most of our cousins for eons, when we connected up with them on the trip this past week, we might have just seen them last week.
Oh, there was a lot of catching up to do. What is Kent doing now? How many kids does Chris have? When did Adam get married? My gosh! You haven’t changed a bit! You look more like your dad every time I see you! How long have you been retired? How many grandchildren?
You know. Catching up.
But let me tell you one thing for sure. I come from good stock. These are some darn fine people.
And I’m lucky enough to have come from good stock on both sides of my family. My dad’s siblings, and our resulting cousins from his side, are equally fine people. We just didn’t get a chance to see them this time.
As we visited with our cousins, we realized that each of them have a different part of the family story. That is probably not unusual for a family the size of my mom’s. My mother’s eldest sister likely lived quite a different life from that of my mother. Literally two generations different.
I think my mom had a somewhat difficult life growing up. Her mother was not even 60 when she died, and sick for some time before that. Boo-hoo, she would say. Keep looking ahead. That’s what she did, that’s what her siblings did, and that’s what their children do. My cousins have experienced their measure of sadness. Loss of children and grandchildren, caring for frail parents. Still, you simply don’t hear any of them complain. Tough midwestern folks with a sense of humor to get them through many difficult times. It’s true of my family, I know.
No matter the age, the guidelines for a good life are the same. If you work hard, you will be rewarded. Be honest. Worship God. Everything is better if there is food and beer involved. Laugh a lot. Be loyal to your family. And love, love, love music.
Grandma and Grandpa Micek were farmers. Except when they weren’t. If you had asked me two weeks ago the occupation of my mother’s parents, I would have, with great conviction, said they farmed in Boone County, Nebraska. But I learned this past week that at some point in their life, when they had at least some of their kids, they lived in Missouri. And I read an obit that said Grandpa Micek had been a shopkeeper – an honest one, according to the notice. Who knew? As I always say, Kids, ask your parents and grandparents questions now.
One thing is for certain. At one point the large, exuberant, very Catholic Micek family lived in what the local newspaper called “the castle” just outside of Cedar Rapids, Nebraska, in Boone County. The third floor of that “castle” was made into a music room by Grandpa Micek. According to lore, he purchased a number of musical instruments with which he hoped to keep his boys busy and out of trouble.
I learned this past week that there have been at least three different dance bands, each led by a different Micek son – the Eddie Mills Band, the El Mills Band, and the Bobby Mills Band. (They are alleged to have called themselves “Mills” as opposed to “Micek” so as to not restrict themselves to only playing polkas.)
But here’s the highlight of the story – at least as far as my siblings and I are concerned. My dad met my mom because he played on one of her brother’s bands and she collected tickets. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, and the rest is history.
Bec and I enjoyed a lot of things about our trip, but I can say with great confidence that spending time with our family was top on our list.
Nana’s Note: Time out for an ancestry lesson. First cousins share a grandparent; second cousins share a great grandparent; a first cousin once removed is the child of a first cousin. So, for example, in my family: Erik(Bec’s son) and Court (my son) are first cousins; Carter (Bec’s grandson) and Kaiya (my granddaughter) are second cousins; Carter is Court’s first cousin once removed. It’s very confusing. I had to look it up.