By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published November 7, 2013
I was looking through my aunt’s wedding album, which is filled with black-and-white photos of days gone by. She was married more than 50 years ago, and in the reception scenes there are ladies in sleek silky gowns dancing with handsome men in debonair tuxedoes. All around, people are drinking, talking, eating and laughing, as if the joy of that day would never end.
My aunt came from a Neapolitan family and married a man whose roots were in northern Italy, so nearly everyone in the photos has that certain Latin look. Seated at one long table and staring placidly at the camera were two rather dashing, dark-haired men, but I didn’t recognize them.
“Those are your uncles Canio and Mike,” my aunt explained. And when I asked about a rather lovely teenager with a melancholy expression, she told me that was my cousin Rosemary.
You may wonder why she had to identify these folks, but the sad truth of the matter is that I never met them. You see, my aunt grew up in a family with three boys and three girls, one of whom was my mother. A serious rift occurred when one brother married a woman whom the rest of the family couldn’t tolerate, and then deepened when there was a squabble over the family inheritance. Evidently my two uncles acted rather disgracefully and were cut off from the rest of the group.
After that, the three sisters and the remaining brother rarely spoke to the two men again, nor did they keep in touch with their children. It seems unbelievable to say that a family was torn apart permanently over such matters, but I’m sure divorce lawyers can tell harrowing tales about spouses who reach a wall in their relationship and refuse to budge. Each side believes they are right, and each side is unwilling to forgive.
In this case, the years piled up and the five children of the estranged brothers grew up without knowing many of their relatives. They missed out on so much! For example, at Thanksgiving my sister along with our other cousins piled into my aunt’s tiny apartment and amused ourselves playing poker while the adults sipped Manhattans nearby. It was many years before I realized that my older cousins positioned themselves exactly right to peek at the younger kids’ cards, but the little kids forgave them because, after all, they were our own flesh and blood, and we loved them.
Family grievances often thrive because no one will make the first move to forgive. Someone has to swallow their pride and surrender their stance even if they still believe, deep inside, that the other person is wrong. Someone has to model the incredible love of Jesus who was willing to forgive everyone, even those who took his life.
I was a teenager before anyone told me about my missing cousins. At the time it didn’t strike me how sad it was that these children never knew my mother, their Aunt Gracie, and her two sisters. They never spent time with my Uncle Savy, a hefty fellow who always had a joke at the ready and a Cuban cigar in his hand.
My missing cousins didn’t know the joy of sitting at a huge table with people who look like you while everyone is laughing and talking and gesturing, and reaching over you to grab more biscotti or another glass of wine. They didn’t know the joy of hearing my dad and uncles telling stories while they sipped espresso spiked with anisette after the meal.
As I looked through the album, I grieved over the cousins I’d never met. I envisioned one of them pointing at a picture of a chubby little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, and enthusiastically throwing rice at the newly married couple at the church door. I could almost hear the heartbreaking question, “Who is she?” And although I can’t say for sure, I truly hope there is someone left in the world to tell my cousin that the little girl is me.
Lorraine Murray’s latest mystery in the Francesca Bibbo series,“Death Dons a Mask,” has just been published, and can be ordered online. Artwork is by Jef Murray. You may contact the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.