Recently a cousin with whom I have had little contact posted two items on Facebook. One was a picture of a snow blower he had gotten for his birthday (yeah! I clicked “like”) and the other was evidence that his dog had eaten and undigested something plastic (“yuck” – we have observed the same thing happen with the dogs at home here in Brazil). Afterwards, I thought “Why in the world would my only communication with a person I value and would like to know better be an expression of disdain over a natural function of pedigreed and mongrel pets alike?” That got me mulling over relationships which are important but not considered primordial in today’s hectic world, mainly, cousins.

I grew up far from my cousins – a half continent away, to be exact. Cousins – and aunts, uncles, grandparents and others significant to my family – lived in another world which I visited for a few months every four or five years. During those special visits, I met my kid cousins (I was the oldest daughter of my Stowell grandparents’ oldest daughter). Especially memorable, because marked for history by a family portrait, was the family reunion when my great grandmother was still alive, and my oldest Foster cousin, Scott, was a babe in arms. My cousin Jim was a good-looking boy of maybe nine or ten and his parents had not yet brought my Korean-born cousin Wendy onto the scene. Cousin Hillery, Aunt Jinny and Uncle Bill’s one and only, was a winsome little girl that already gave indication of the intelligent beauty she would become. Uncle Roge and wife still had not produced their two sons, and when I was in the States, proposed to have me live with them to get a good American education.

Visiting my dad’s side of the family was another story. He was ninth of twelve children and it looks like most of them continued the order given in Eden to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth”. My dad was an uncle when he was born, and my older cousins and their kin were mostly names mentioned and faces blurred into nirvana. There were cousins I enjoyed playing with – Uncle Allen’s Byron and Anne, Aunt Doris’s Dianne, Debby and Harry Milton, and cousin Valerie.  Harry went with us to Jamestown when Lau and I visited the first time when Davi was four and Debby less than two, and it was a joy to get to know him for a day. Still wish there were a way to re-connect with them: There were aunts and uncles we loved, who treated us to special meals and a gift or two – I remember each one of them. But contact with my Charles cousins was rarer as the years went by, and stopped after my aunts and/or uncles passed away.

There were surrogate cousins when we were children living in Brazil – fellow MK’s. Missionary kids were part of our life, and their parents were our real-life aunts and uncles. I still have contact with one or two (Yeah Nina!), and have discovered that we continue to have much in common despite fifty years gone by!

One of the unexpected blessings when I married was the deluge of relatives acquired along with Lau. Lau’s parents adopted me from the day he told them he was marrying that gringo blonde. His dad was one of eight brothers and sisters (with between none and eight offspring a piece) and Da. Eulina one of sixteen. You can imagine how many relatives that produced. For several years, when we had family reunions, there were over one hundred people gathered from several states of Brazil! It was hard to keep track of everybody, but the few aunts and uncles that remain, plus the many cousins from all over, plus their children and grandchildren, are always in our mind and hearts. We still keep in touch as “primo” and “prima”.

The name for cousin in Portuguese (primo or prima) comes from Latin “first”— and some of these cousins in Brazil are really “first” in our hearts. But I’d say that our children really got the prime opportunities in cousin relations.

Each time I was pregnant, my two sisters-in-law also had children, so my children grew up with same age cousins: Davi, Glaucia, and Márcio, Deborah, Daniela and Maurício, Daniel and (slightly younger) Alvaro Filho (Alvinho), then Leda. Add to these, those cousins who lived in neighboring towns, as well as those who lived far away but were part of the larger community of church family we visited. For example, Davi was fourteen when he travelled alone by bus from Jaú to São Luis dos Montes Belos, over 1000 miles away, to visit tio Neto and tia Ester and the cousins Eliseu, Eliezer and Gabriel. That’s another funny use of relatives’ names: Tio is uncle and Neto is Grandson, so Lau’s sibling cousin  (both fathers and mothers are brothers and sisters!) Venâncio was  “Uncle Grandson” to my kids!)  When we moved to Brasília, our cousin Regina Claudia and her husband Emílio, had our support every time one of her children was born, so that our second cousins are as much primos (or more!) than the many cousins I’ve never met.

Relationships change over time, and I guess that is one of the reasons relatives grow apart or even break up, apart or down. Our (Lilian, Alice and I) children who grew up together are no longer as close as they were when kids. Davi and Marcio used to spend every vacation together and have unforgettable underage experiences, from being held up under gunpoint at Márcio’s chacara to going together with a long list of Bible verses, to talk to the Catholic bishop and question why that church venerated idols and considered Mary holier than Jesus. Today Márcio is a successful customs official in the port of Santos who has made totally different lifestyle choices than Davi, who is happily married with two kids and chancellor of the largest private university in South America. Debby and Daniela are friends though living completely different lives on either side of the Atlantic, while our beloved Maurício lost his life in drug-related suicide when only in early twenties, leaving a fatherless child. My oldest Colombini nephew and niece also took different roads in life: Derlinho is hardworking, success-driven, centered father of equally successful sons, while my beauty-driven architect, niece Adriana faces continual losses (or screw-ups) in life, as do her son and daughter, and grandchild. Comparisons suck, but they always come up when considering the life and times of cousins!

Patty Duke starred in of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid, where “identical cousins” were look-alikes from contrasting life situations. Looking at the pictures of cousins in albums of the past, we remember good times and regret the bad moments (or days, months and years) that accumulated pain in their lives and ours. Most of the time, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on in my cousin’s lives, or the lives of my children’s cousins. We heard and read and intuited what was 80% gossip and maybe 10% reality – leave the remaining 10% for whatever other motives one might have. We loved our family, and had hundreds of reasons to become closer to people like and unalike us, and we allowed opportunities to flutter like feathers from a torn-up pillow on a windy day.
The Bible is packed with stories about relatives and relationships of all kinds. Some cousins reach the Hall of Fame for giving bad advice – take Jeroboam’s young kin in 1 Kings 12:8-15 – causing permanent division and constant civil was between Judah and Israel. Come New Testament times, a couple of memorable cousins change the world: Yohanan ben Zacariah and Yeshuah ben David. The first was born to aged infertile Levite parents who had trouble believing they would give birth to John the Baptist. Six months later Jesus was conceived by a Judean teen virgin whom Joseph, carpenter of royal lineage, married. One spent his early years on the outskirts of Jerusalem and as he matured, assumed the wild trappings of a prophet in rough clothes and a diet of locusts and honey. The other spent his first years a fugitive in Egypt until the puppet tyrant king died and he returned with his family to grow up in Nazareth, Galilee. John’s whole purpose in life was to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus was the Lord whose way had been prepared “from the foundation of the earth”. When the two met as adults, Jesus asked John to baptize him, and John announced “Behold the Lamb of God”. Both were destined for violent death – John beheaded on a whim, Jesus crucified – and he was ressurrected three days later! Those are cousins of true renown!

I take this moment to honor my cousins by blood ties and through heartstrings, in hopes that we may build bridges in our humanity, and connect the many existent or imaginary gulfs into one distinct, diverse, and divine family!
Elizabeth Gomes


  1. Beth, as you know I can really relate to all this. I envy those who have family (extended family) nearby. When I divorced and came back to the US, I "lost" the family that had been my family for almost 30 years, and many who had known me since I was a child.
    I have recently gotten into genealogy, and enjoy finding relatives I never even knew existed. One interesting fact is that I used to feel so "different' from my cousins, and thought they thought I was really "out of it." As we have become adults, and have reconnected ---if mostly through Facebook---I have learned that they thought we were to "cool" ones because we spoke two languages and had traveled and knew so many things they didn't know.

  2. Querida Beth, me sinto honrada de ter uma prima como você e pela oportunidade de ter vivido com vocês e aprendido de vocês grandes lições... daria até um livro todas as histórias!