Although I say I’m a stranger in a strange land here, truth be told, I have some roots around this area. My father actually hails from outside the Meadville area and was the son of farmers from way back. He left to join the military in the 1960’s and then settled in Detroit to begin his dream of working for the Big Three automakers.

I haven’t much experience with dad’s side of the family. We would visit my grandfather’s farm every few years, meet our cousins, and run through fields and chase cows, but being raised in a city in another state really put my siblings and I outside of an understandable realm of existence for my country cousins. We liked each other and always enjoyed the company whenever we met, there just wasn’t a great amount of familiarity. But I have always been terrifically fond of them in a Beverly Hillbillies sort of way only minus the Beverly Hills, the money, double the moonshine, and replace the Texas twang with a rural Pennsylvania accent.

So, anyhoo-I received word Monday night that my father’s stepmother (Gramma H) was going to be in the hospital for tests on her heart. My father was hoping I would go to represent the Michigan contigent of the family. Of course, I agreed. I hadn’t seen most of my cousins since they crashed* my wedding 5 years before.

* They were invited and although they initialy declined, 22 of them were sitting around drinking the day the of the wedding when one got the idea to hijack a motorhome and mosey on down to Maryland (where we married) with the clan to see how activities were progressing.

I arrive at the hospital and no one recognizes me. This is fair enough since the last time most of them saw me, my hair was blue and half my skull was shaved. My hair wasn’t all that much longer (although I was back to natural color) by the time I married 5 years ago.

Re-introductions all around, hugs, kisses, jokes, and catching up on gossip ensued. It was actually a pretty good time for being in a hospital. I even enjoyed the obligatory quaffing of home brew corn whiskey (made from left overs of yearly harvests) which seems to accompany every occasion with this set of cousins.

My image of myself has always been based on the family prism of my mother’s end of the gene pool. I have her hair, my maternal grandmother’s fingers, my maternal great aunt’s nasty temper, and mannerisms all seem to hail from them. I am close to that side of the family. I never fancied that I had anything in common with these cousins from Pennsylvania other than a limited amount of shared genetic material.

However, I have my father’s family customary black eyes. I’m the only one of my siblings to have them. In sea of blues and greens on my mom’s side, I have always stood out for the coal-black peepers in my noggin and yet there I was in the hospital yesterday, having easily over a dozen sets of those same eyes staring back at me.

So embarked an afternoon of discovery: an uncle with whom I share the same laugh, an aunt who shares my ridiculous horticultural obsession with cranberrries, a cousin who can move his right pinky toe independently of his foot like I can, and another uncle with whom I was finishing the sentences of by the end of the day.

It’s strange all this. It’s like I just discovered a new room in my house, one I’ve walked passed every day of my life and never noticed until now. At this age of life, I thought I had pretty much figured out where I fit into the scheme things family wise. Of course, I have been proven, yet again, greatly wrong on the subject.

I’m invited south this weekend to have dinner. The family is inviting  dozens of cousins over for the occasion. And while I’m a little apprehensive about it, I’m going. There’s new mysteries to solve and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally be able to answer the age-old question of whether or not I am in fact so full shit that that is why my eyes are black.

Details to follow.