Let’s go back a bit to the ’50’s. It’s a time when women “knew their place” and Men were the providers. Men ruled the world, and even the roost, at times. So it was a time of peaceful relations, and covered up embarrassments that were not spoken of outside the home. It was peaceful, but full of confusion and torment for the young, the uninformed, the bullied
Speaking of which, bullying was a part of life. For a posse of cousins, the spawn of a different posse of siblings disguised as parents, it was a matter of balance. How much do you endure before (if a girl) you cry; (if a boy) you punch. Girls just didn’t do that stuff. Those scars were, and remain, invisible.
Because of the times, birth control wasn’t much thought of. Family planning wasn’t really a thing. There was plenty of room out there to keep expanding the population, and how much better if it was a population of your own DNA! Yes, the men figured that one out. A benefit of that expansion was the money it brought for some, with jobs it created. Nobody worried much about infrastructure. It was taken for granted that unimpeded growth was acceptable. Do we know better now? Maybe.
In this environment, an ally was very important. Lacking effective siblings, one would look outside the family nucleus and find a protector in an older, wiser cousin. Someone who was past the adolescent lashing out thing and willing to take the bullied under their wing for the duration of an extended family gathering.
So that was Cousin Sarah. Sarah was already a young adult when I came along. I was unaware of the controversy that surrounded her and her eviction from the heart of the family because of her sin.
But it was my first experience with bigotry as a child. Cousin had broken her mold and done the unspeakable for a nice Italian girl. She had married a Jewish man, a lawyer. Up until then, I had assumed that everyone had a name that ended in a vowel. All the o’s and a’s made sense in a small Italian-American community that relied on its Catholic monsignor for moral support and advice in times of crisis. There weren’t enough Irish-Americans around sometimes, to base their fear on.
Cousin Sarah didn’t get involved in family drama. She quietly engaged in her professional career, her marriage to Irving, and to her own children, who she raised in the Jewish religion after she herself converted.
I was unsure of all this. I didn’t know that you could marry outside of your birth religion. I didn’t know that you wouldn’t burn in hell for an eternity if you dared to consort with the other. But Sarah seemed fine with it all.
Now she is gone. She had problems early on with repeating herself, and with forgetting what she was saying, and with anger. She declined rapidly toward the end, but because of her loyal children, she died at peace, having given them her best as well as she could.
No guilt, no shame.
Things are very different now. People figured out how to slow the decline of the environment, people plan their smaller families. People respect and treat other races and religions equally.
And those who don’t, well, they’re doomed to repeat their mistakes. Progress never seemed an option.
The good news is, the bullying ended for me, the bad that a beloved cousin will be missed terribly.