I just found out a cousin passed away a year ago. He was a dear man and committed to our family legacy. I am sitting here at my computer remembering the time he and I spoke, the time we met, the joy in our voices. This cousin lived in California. A lot of black families have "California Cousins" as if they were some foreign entity. My extended self on the west coast has been there since the 1940s. I live in the St. Louis area, the coast is a country away, too far to drive on a whim, another world.
The thought of this cousin doesn't leave me this morning as I sip the remaining warmth of a Tanzania Peaberry French Press. He was instrumental in doing the genealogical research and legacy dig that unearthed interesting family facts. My cousin was a tall, creamy caramel-colored man, his smooth skin was kissed by the California sun. He had thick, curly dark hair, and a welcoming smile. I remember the bear hug he gave me on a trip out to Diamond Bar back in 2002. I felt the embrace of ancestors when he, not much my senior, engulfed me into his arms and gave me a protective squeeze. Now he is gone, never to talk to him again. It saddens me.
One of my other cousins, a fellow member on a family email site, informed me of the demise of this cousin. I should qualify that the cousin who passed away was not a first cousin, he would probably we called a second cousin once removed or some other sort of classification. His mother and my mother were cousins. He was my mother's second cousin, my third cousin. I was not in his immediate family, I moved, and I live in St. Louis so it is logical that I wouldn't have known, given the population-of-a-small-island-size of my family.
I remembered a picture of he and I. I'm glad I still have it in my California photo album. I remember the joy and sunshine of that happy day. I will remember him for his laughter and his joy. He really wanted to bring all the branches and flowers of the huge family tree together. He wanted to honor the roots that are our ancestors from Haiti, France, and New Orleans. He wanted to celebrate the six generations from those island roots. Through his eyes I can look at how far and wide this society grew, these people, originally "gens de couleur libre",part of antebellum New Orleans.
My cousin will be missed. I will miss the opportunity to sit down and trace the trail of our family lineage. I will miss the warmth of his smile as we look at family pictures. I will miss his encouragement at my patched-together French. I will miss him and I will celebrate his passion as my family prepares for a huge, extended family reunion in 2008. Family is important because it gives a connection to someone, something beyond the confines of my own existence. As a black person in America, I celebrate the gift of my family heritage and the ability to trace our beginnings. I will always thank my cousin, not-so-distant, for being on the same search site as I was, reading and learning. I will always celebrate our brief, over-too-soon, picnic in the park. He is gone but will live on in my heart.