Ruth Bass: Enough cousins to go around – and then some


RICHMOND — Everyone was a little surprised when 23 of the 27 first cousins appeared at Uncle Charlie's memorial service, and after the reception, a bunch of us went to a restaurant and tried to catch up with each other. We met rarely — some of us not at all — and we were far-flung, jumping New England's boundaries and moving to California, Oklahoma, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Somewhere between entrees and desserts, a cousin commented on what fun everyone was having and how we ought to do it again. The Californian immediately suggested we all come to her state, but the Easterners thought it far easier for her to come to us.

In any case, the seed was planted. My sister, always ready to feed and water a seed, was a serious catalyst, and we started hearing the word reunion very soon after we'd left our tips on the table in central Massachusetts. Not every year, the trio of planners said. Every two years. So we gathered again.

Then the fearsome trio did a survey: Next time, hotel, resort or someone's house? House, so we can do more talking. And thus, the crowd came to Richmond, with cousins' offspring and a few of their offspring joining us. We were already into counting generations.

Our grandfather would have loved these events. Halsey Leonard Allen liked singing around the piano, going to dances and carving the Sunday chicken for a table of many faces. Our grandmother, Mabel Nellie Munson, would have quietly kept serving up food, talked about her latest reading and taken pride without admitting it. She did enjoy knowing she had traced this bunch back to the Mayflower.

Thus it was that a week ago, we gathered in Ryegate, Vt. Where, you say? Exactly. Even the GPS on the car couldn't find it, and no phone call for help was possible because the cell phone clearly said "no service." Muddling was the order of the day, and it was a relief to suddenly come upon a little lake called Ticklemenaked (honestly) and remember that it was in the written instructions. It was okay to be late — the Allens often are.

Like every family, we're a mixed bunch, never more so than this year when we were up to the sixth generation. Some still live not far from the family nucleus in middle Massachusetts, but the rest are scattered, coast to coast. We are much more politically diverse than the 11 children of our grandparents, who were predominantly Republican. Their generation consisted mostly of teachers, housewives and farmers, many of them with college degrees. Ours includes college administrators, bankers, nurses, engineers, flight attendants, writers, teachers, farmers and more.

Eight couples in their generation — all of the aunts and uncles who married — celebrated at least their golden wedding anniversaries; that's 50 years of togetherness. Our cousin group has some long-term marriages, some partnerships, several divorces and some adoptions. We are gay, straight and possibly indifferent. We are religious, some devoutly, and agnostic.

None of it matters. We get along, which is what Grandma would have thought we ought to do. It is a joy to know that we'll meet again in two years.

Ruth Bass is author of two historical novels based on New England farm life. Her web site is


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