The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the running joke with respect to my family is that, yearly, I either (a) meet new relatives I didn’t know I had, OR (b) “find” cousins I met – and lost touch with – long ago.
It turned out to be the latter, when the phone rang last Sunday evening.
As the walls in my folks’ house tend to be quite thin, I overheard my mom pick up the phone in the kitchen and start talking to someone named Christine, unsure of who it was …
Followed by the “Oh my God!” and the increase in the volume of her voice when she recognized who it was.
And I must admit, I was taken aback as well.
The last – and first – time I saw my cousin Christine, she was nine years old and skinny. I was only six, probably equally as skinny, and visiting some of my mom’s side of the family for the first time in my entire little life.
I don’t know if we were as thick as thieves when my mom, little brother and I visited for those three weeks, but from what little I can remember, we certainly ran around a lot together in that short period of time.
And to this day, there’s one story my mom will never forget, nor let me live down:
Picture it: Jamaica, the summer of 1983. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was huge. Kentucky Fried Chicken was still edible. And one day Christine and I decided to have a little fun with my aunt’s cat.
Keep in mind, the cat in my aunt’s house wasn’t so much there as a pet as it was to help catch the mice.
I don’t remember the details which brought this about,*** but one thing led to another and we decided to take the dear Cat With No Name and put him somewhere special.
Namely one of my mom’s big, tan suitcases.
My mother found the cat later on in the afternoon, in the suitcase, in the closet. We didn’t completely zip up the suitcase, so the poor thing – understandably petrified – had shat over most of the shoes in the closet and inside the suitcase.
To say she wasn’t amused was a GROSS understatement. Needless to say, I’ve never done anything like that again or since.
Incidentally, I also really like cats.
But I would never see Christine again. I heard dribs and drabs about her through the years through my mom, who would get news about her whereabouts from time to time through my uncle Ucline.*
Fast forward about 25 years, and I now know she’s alive and well. Speaking to her briefly, I found out that she’s now in Connecticut (probably Hartford where, from the sounds of it, there’s a sizeable Jamaican population, which includes relatives from my dad’s side**), with three kids, working as a legal assistant while waiting for her green card (don’t ask me how this works – I’ve no idea).
And the strangest thing? About three weeks before she made the phone call to our house, she and a co-worker were having a conversation and ended up on the subject of cats … prompting her re-tell the very story that brought us together in the first place.
That Sunday evening, she mentioned that her phone call was prompted by the fact her own kids are getting older and starting to ask questions about where they came from, and who their family is.
If I could talk to them, I’d say, good for you. Not just because I think family should be one of the most vital things a person should know about him or herself. But because you’re helping people like me rediscover and re-connect with people I shouldn’t have lost touch with in the first place.
Fingers crossed she gets her green card, so that maybe one day I’ll get to see her again and make up for lost time.
*His real name is Harold. If you’re from a West Indian family, you know most people have two names … or you know this if you’re from a culture where a lot of family members get a “second” name.
**A prime example of what I’m talking about. I didn’t really know about them until I met some of them last year.
***Christine says it was because either she or I wanted to take the cat with me back to Canada …