Sunday, October 24, 2021

On Relatives, Numbers, and First Cousins Once Removed.

"I'm going to go out for coffee with my cousins Laverta and Marilyn and Loretta when I'm in Iowa," I might say to my offspring.  Then I add, "Well actually. . ."

"Let me guess," the kids say. "They're actually your first cousins once removed."


My grandparents on my dad's side had seven children. Edna, one of the oldest, was married in 1924 a few weeks before her 18th birthday. She had her first baby, Sylvia, the next year.

My dad was one of the younger ones in the family and by far the last to get married, at age 37. His youngest child, Margaret, was born in 1968.

That meant there was a 43-year range from the oldest grandchild to the youngest. It also meant that Dad became a grandpa for the last time in 2005, when he was 88 years old. Pretty sure that doesn't happen very often.

With Dad's siblings marrying young and mostly having large families, we had scads of cousins who were having children at the same time as Mom and Dad, so the relatives we had slumber parties with were not our first cousins but our first cousins once removed.

In fact, Margaret used to hang out with her cousin Sylvia's grandchildren.

If you're from an Amish family line, you learn to parse and accurately label the family tree the way you learn to diagram sentences in seventh grade. Every twist and generation matters.

We took a trip to Iowa last week. Paul is doing some PR work for a ministry called Open Hands, which works with churches and missions in low-income countries to set up savings groups, where people meet regularly and help each other save their money. He was scheduled to speak at a few churches.

Well, I was not going to miss a chance to go to Iowa and see relatives--mostly my last aunt, Mom's sister Vina, plus many others. We stayed with my cousin Anna Fern, also on Mom's side of the family and therefore more of a peer.

As always, Yoder first cousins once removed popped out of the woodwork every way I turned, especially at church and a dinner hosted by my FCOR Loretta. There are just. so. many. of them. 

Since I'm home, I dug out the John A Yoder book and did the math. My grandparents had 203 great-grandchildren. Of course you don't count my children and their cousins, so I have 185 FCORs. Mostly, they're scattered across the Midwest.

We stayed with one of these, Sylvia's daughter Edna, in southern Iowa after a few days in Kalona. Edna is 75 and still runs a big nursery, raises exotic birds, drives Amish people around, and pursues all kinds of interests.

Being around relatives is strangely validating. Around Vina's storytelling and Anna Fern's quilts, I see reflections of my own attraction to words and fabric.

With the Yoder cousins I saw odd bits of myself in other ways. Edna's varied interests reminded me so much of my own ability to go equally crazy about dahlias, history, thrifting, math, books, cultures, chickens, and many more random topics. 

When I went out for breakfast with Loretta, I discovered it's a Yoder "thing" to have a runny nose as soon as you start eating. There's also the "Yoder cough," a dry little hacking in the background.

I told Edna about the blizzard in Minnesota over the time of Mom's funeral, and she said that at winter funerals she can hardly stand it that they don't tuck a blanket around the deceased in the coffin before they bury him or her. I felt so understood, because at Mom's burial I could hardly stand it that she was lowered into that frozen earth without one of her quilts to keep her warm, and I always felt kind of silly that it mattered that much to me.

In Oregon, I'm pretty far removed from most of the relatives, and it's comforting and even a bit humbling to be reminded that some of my strange quirks are actually common family traits. If you want to feel like you're not all that unique of a snowflake, chat with some other members of a huge family.

The Yoder book was compiled in 2011. At that time, my grandparents had produced over 900 offsprings. I'm sure that number has grown much larger in the ten years since,the great-greats being of childbearing age and exponential growth being what it is.

If you live in the Midwest, you've probably run into some of my relatives. Yoders are, for the most part, not very large or noisy or outspoken people. I don't think any of them have run for office or become famous on Instagram. You probably saw them farming, teaching, serving behind the scenes, or quietly running a small business.

When you spend time with the relatives and look at the numbers in the genealogy book, you might think of Jesus's promise in the Beatitudes and what He said about how to have an impact on the world.

As someone has said, "The meek will inherit the earth...if that's ok with the rest of you."