On my mom’s side of the family, the Bustins, we had three sets of cousins. Today – because of space considerations – I’ll be writing about two of them, with the third set to follow next Sunday.
If you live in California, and drive to Canada to visit your relatives in an orange van called “The Great Pumpkin”, then you are the cool cousin.
Wendy first visited us in Canada when she was eleven months old. Although I don’t remember this visit, it was our first indication of how sociable she was. They came by plane, and she was naturally jet-lagged. When our parents put the three of us to bed, two of us stayed asleep, but Wendy was up a few hours later. My mom and dad had invited a few other couple over to meet Aunt Barbara and Uncle Don, and Wendy cheerfully kept them all entertained!
Wendy is the same age as my sister Gwen, and we always wished we could see her more often. But given that we lived in different countries, with Wendy in the west and us in the east, we did well, since they usually came every second year.
Remarkably, my sister remembers me teaching Wendy the American national anthem. (Not my country’s anthem, but hers. Was I really that bossy?) As children, we went swimming together, played make-believe in the corn crib, and took turns in my grandparents’ hammock. As we grew older, our relationships turned into real friendships. We travelled back and forth on our own for visits, and Wendy was a bridesmaid in Gwen’s wedding. When she came to Canada in 2012, she and I drove to the Stratford Festival to see 42nd Street. We didn’t stop talking for a minute on the way there, and still had lots to talk about before and after the show. Wendy is that friend who you haven’t seen in a while, but when you do, it feels like you’ve never been apart.
If Wendy was our cool cousin, then Shawn and Erin were the cute ones. Ten and twelve years younger than me, they were adorable when the rest of us were going through our awkward stages. Here they are at one of our annual family Christmas get-togethers, pictured behind the cookie house my mom always made for those occasions. Nearly every Christmas photo taken around that time shows one of them inching their way out of the chair, if not reaching an arm toward the cookie house to claim their favourite treat.
Another year, we dressed them up as Santa and Mrs. Claus to deliver gifts. Erin’s big smile and Shawn’s cheerful acceptance of a cloth beard tell you everything you need to know about how much fun it was to have little ones in the family.
That’s their dad, my Uncle Alan, smiling in the background. He died much too young at the age of 45, when Erin and Shawn were teenagers. His friendly and gentle nature helped make them the people they are today.