As we waited for the valet to bring the car around we started seeing different members of our family. Hugs and kisses for all. We were all abuzz and excited to be spending a few days together to celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary. From around the country, the extended family and descendants of Frances Spiro converged in Florida. There were siblings, first cousins, second cousins and either third cousins or second cousins once removed, or both. That cousin thing is always so hard to understand. What isn’t hard to fathom for us anyway, is just how we all feel about each other. The love is special. The caring genuine.
Frances Spiro is my great grandmother. She had 5 children who came to the United States in the teens and early 20’s of the last century, immigrants who were fleeing possible war and persecution. She had a 6th child who nobody spoke about, he ran off to Russia as a communist is the story we all have heard. There were three sisters and two brothers who started new lives and began to raise families in the Bronx. Some came with legal papers, some may not have, we have a number tales that support both stories. Frances came with two of her daughters, my grandmother Stella being one. When they left Europe, Stella’s name was Stephania. That was changed in Ellis Island. They all settled near each other, in some cases living multiple families in one apartment at times, with first cousins sharing beds. There were 10 first cousins who spent time together as siblings. They have told us stories of hitchhiking to the Catskills, going to New York Baseball Giant games when they weren’t supposed to, staying at rooming houses at the Jersey Shore and so on. The feelings that our parents generation had for each other goes beyond that of cousins, they were each other’s best friends. After World War II, they created the Frances Spiro Family Circle to ensure that as the family grew, we would stay connected and together. It ensured that they would all see each other often and we would all get to know each other on a level that most people only know their first cousins. And it did.
As a young child you couldn’t wait for the Family Circle “meeting” to be at your house. I use “meeting” in quotes because although there was family business (a cemetery plot, dues paid for gifts for births and graduations and family trips), the meeting generally ended quickly so that poker and acey deucey could begin. By the way, acey deucey is basically blackjack! The women played that while the men played poker. We had raffles, and food and it was the one Saturday in the month that you knew you would see all of your cousins. We also had Passover Seder’s and Hannukah parties and a great summer picnic. All of these different events with the extended family is what allowed us to have relationships with second and third cousins, and the once removed as well!
We all have stories of this Aunt or that Uncle, of this cousin or that, of this time in the Catskills or that time, etc. If you have ever seen the movie Avalon you would understand the purpose of the family circle. Ours is why I have cousins I get to see often, some are like siblings and I know that no matter what they would be there for me. When my marriage fell apart there was a point that I didn’t think I could go on, I didn’t have the strength. One cousin, a second cousin, said to me, “remember the stock you come from, You are as strong as the women who came here with nothing in their pockets.” I do come from strong stock, we all do.
The party in Florida was an incredible event, with fun and love abounding. The reminder that this family is there when you need them, will support each of through anything and are fun to hang around with was an added bonus. The ties that bind, started with Frances Spiro, but they run deep in all of us. Through the party and our stories, I am hoping that we have passed a bit of that tie down to the next generation.