In the mystery of human relationships, cousins are a strange middle ground between people who are close family (parents, grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren) and those who are strangers (having no known relationship).

This week I spent two days in a “cousins reunion,” a carefully planned event bringing together the second generation descendants of Eugene and Caro Fowler Basquin, an immigrant from France whose name indicated Basque ancestry a couple of centuries back and a member of an old New England family . They had five children who grew up, four daughters and a son. These five (one never married) produced ten children. With two of these (and their spouses) we have had fairly close relationships. Two others I never met. One has died. The others have crossed our paths on occasion. Six of these ten and five significant others were assembled in Mystic, Connecticut, for a low key event that featured a couple of block-buster meals, lots of nibbles with alcohol, an afternoon ride up and down the Connecticut River by steam train and ship, and ambles through a couple of museums and specialty stores. We included in our number, among other things, a couple of Episcopal priests, two lawyers, two registered nurses, business people, a concert pianist, a teacher, an author, and others, all in some degree of retirement.

It was an enjoyment. I had conversations in depth about everything from translating Horace to presidential politics and conversations in no depth about the weather and the foibles of Global Positioning Systems.

What brings us together? A certain degree of physical resemblance, a good deal of commonality of upbringing, similarities in the expectations we were raised with. I remember my mother telling how she brought home an excellent report card to show her father and was told, “What do you expect? You’re a Basquin!” We spent time telling what we knew about our grandparents. None of us had any memory of Eugene Basquin, who died when I, the oldest cousin, was three, and our memories of our common grandmother were limited. We didn’t talk much about our parents since all of us knew all of them. A plan to talk briefly about what each of us was up to never happened. It was more about being: being together, being who we are, discovering commonalities, cousinalities.

“Know thyself,” is an ancient piece of wisdom because, as Wikipedia wisely observes, knowing oneself is an important step toward knowing others. We are told that Vice President Cheney and Senator Obama are eighth cousins. It is said that all Western Europeans are within thirty degrees of cousinhood with a common ancestor scarcely a thousand years back. A few more cousin reunions might be a very good thing.

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