The characters that grace my life point me to live and learn. Satisfaction, (perhaps growth), comes from examining my behavior. At sixty years I am but a work-in-progress.

Mooney’s mechanic beamed proudly, pointing to the center of the tread. It was an oven outside and I’d had another flat. “There’s the problem,” he triumphed. “See it?” Having absolutely NO idea what the guy was looking at, yet not wanting to disappoint, I nodded knowingly. Moments later, through the glare of a blazing sun, a man approached.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked, arm extended.

Didn’t, but should have. Knew the face, told him so, but couldn’t pull the trigger on the name.

“I’m married to your cousin,” he advised, after which we spoke several minutes…catching up. Our talk, crisp with laughter at family foibles, ended with another handshake. Exiting, he left me with a smile and one gnawing sense of loss.

Hal and I, you see, grew up surrounded by family. There were grand-parents, GREATgrandparents, cousins, second cousins, cousins of cousins, those that married in, those that opted out…and we knew them all. To this day H and I share vivid memories of even the most ancillary relations.

…Visions of first cousin Marla Hoffman’s third birthday at Forest Hills Park, second cousin Sam, (a ticket-taker at Public Hall), sneaking us through circus turnstiles and in Browns’ games…images of “Little Lou” (cousin of a cousin who now approaches 6’6”—or so it seems), or even NON-cousin Lil Flate showing up at random Seders. (Every family has a Lil Flate, you know: the person that no one can figure out how she’s related, but all agree she is). A generation passes and she’s “grandfathered in.” No one even questions it anymore.


How sad it is that today, when I treasure family most, I don’t know my own cousin’s name. That he has to reintroduce himself in a gas station parking lot.

Can’t blame this on Dad’s gambling. Can’t lay it on Mom’s bad ear or even our parents’ divorce. No, they raised us right; they set the table. This one’s on me.

I own it.

My kids are blessed. The sense of community that slid in Cleveland is being recouped in new locales.

I saw it in Chicago Independence Day. It wasn’t Forest Hills but Highland Park; it wasn’t Marla, but Stacy. There she was (my little one), ensconced, ebullient in a sea of thirty or so Bohrers and semi-Bohrers… communing with picnic baskets, softball, barbeque…

It’s an annual convention and, even allowing for the croquet, it is all good…

Or Team Pearl in New York:

Eight days ago Meredith’s mishpachah joined hands in memory of its matriarch; en masse they marched to raise funds in the fight against pancreatic cancer, then brunched together. They do it every year.

I marveled at it and felt enriched to join five cousins, their parents and friends, each clad in grape-colored T’s, each bound by love.

And so it was that days after returning home I was confronted not only by Cousin Ken, but also by opportunity.

Cousin Sheila called with an announcement. (You may recall Sheila. She’s in the Guinness Book Of World Records for most consecutive years in a wheelchair without a diagnosis). Anyway, her author/daughter (my third cousin, or is it second cousin once removed?) will be in Cleveland for a book signing.

Empowed by recent examples, determined to recharge local family, I called Ilie. “This is Cousin Bruce,” the message said. “…Your mom wasn’t sure when you’ll be in town, but I’d love to have lunch or dinner with you.“

That was Thursday. Since then she’s joined a growing list of women that don’t call me back. (It’s an unfortunate trend). But that’s OK.

I’m responsible for the effort, NOT the outcome. I get that.

Maybe she doesn’t crave family as I do. It’s possible. Or maybe Ilie, whose mother left Cleveland in the ‘50’s, and who, herself was raised in Rochester, has no idea who I am.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m her Lillie Flate.


  1. Rolo says:

    I ALWAYS return your calls even faster than you return mine! xxoo

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