How Country Are Ya – Kevin Fowler

I grew up in a very small town in the south with a massive family. 

I’m not kidding, my grandmother had 23 brothers and sisters.  (Big grin)  Yeah, I know you think I’m kidding.  I’m really not.  Though technically, some are half-brothers and sisters as my great-grandfather had two wives (though not at the same time).  My great-grandmother was his second wife, after his first wife died.

Once, when I was probably about ten years old, one of my grandmother’s sister-in-laws decided that it would be a great idea for our family to have a family reunion.  They decided on a place and set the date. It was set for a Sunday.

My grandfather wasn’t about to miss church, even if that meant we were going to be late getting to the reunion.  To his way of thinking, it was only about a fifteen minute ride for us, so we could go after services.

Back then, state parks had these little booths where there was a man who took the park fee (usually a fee per carload).  Once that was paid, he would open the gate and let you in.  It was also his job to tell you were your “party” was located.  On this particular Sunday morning, we arrived to the gate.  The man there looked more than a little frazzled as he opened the window for my grandfather.  My grandfather handled the man the fee and asked where our family reunion was located.  The man leaned out the window and took a good long look at us.  He threw up his hands and said, “Just go anywhere.  Anywhere I tell you.  Your kin is just crawling all over this place.”  With that, he slammed the window, sat down on his stool and sulked as he opened the gate for us.

My grandfather shrugged his shoulders and put the car in drive.  On the other side of the gate, I saw him pat my grandmother’s knee.  “I can’t fault the guy.  Your family makes me feel just about the same way.”  We all got a good hardy laugh from that and circled around the park. 

There are roughly 450 acres in the park.  You wouldn’t think one family could take that much space over, but there we were – everywhere. 

To my surprise, many of my school classmates were there.  I recall the shocked look on all of their faces as we sort of huddled together trying to figure out just how we were related.  My grandmother’s Aunt Julie Mae came over to give us a lesson. 

My great-grandfather was Seth.  His first wife was Mattie and my great-grandmother was Sally.  Their children were (I’m going to try to get them all, but you’ll have to help me count).  Deep breath, here goes:  1st set:  Mary, Arthur, William, Sarah, Itora, Izora, James, Harry, John, Richard, George, Nannie, and Alex.  2nd set:  Thomas, Lellyn, Ralph, Fannie, Welborn, Clara, Myrice, Irene, Bernard, and Marshall.  I cannot even begin to tell you the children of this many people.

It is important to note that my grandmother had three brothers and one sister (Itora, Richard, Ralph and Marshall) that never married or had children; however, at least two of them had huge families of their own (one had 12, I think and the other had 9).  The left overs had an average of 3 children, who average 2 to 3 children each.  And to top that off, the older of my grandmother’s siblings were already into having great-grandchildren. 

Aunt Julie Mae told us that 1st cousins, share a set of grandparents, 2nd cousins share a set of great-grandparents, third cousins share great-great-grandparents and so on.  By her recollection, all the blood-kin related to us were at the very least our 3rd cousins. 

All of us shared a common “grandparent” – Seth.  Many of us shared Seth and Sally.  (Those that didn’t shared Seth and Mattie.)  Now here’s where it gets tricky.  She said “removes” happen when two relatives don’t have the same number of generations between them and their most recent common ancestor. One generation difference equals one remove.  She said, “See the removes are a generational thing.”

She pointed at me, “PJ, you are three generations from Seth, but Brenda over there only has two generations between her and Seth (she was my great-aunt’s daughter and the same age as my mother).  So that makes you and Brenda first cousins, once removed.” 

I was (and still am) an inquisitive child.  My closest cousins were James and Floyd.  James was easy to figure, because he was my Aunt’s son, therefore, my first cousin.  But Floyd was different.  He was Brenda’s youngest brother and only a few years older than me.  So I had to ask, “Aunt Julie, what about Floyd?” 

Aunt Julie slapped her hand on her legs and stood up.  She went over to my grandmother and said, “Fannie, that child asks too many questions for her own good.”

To this day, I still don’t know, but since the “removed” part bugged me so much, Floyd, James and I decided that we were all first cousins and we were having none of that removed business.

I’m pretty sure that’s how the term “cousins, removed” fell out of fashion. Yep!

Hope you are enjoying your week!


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