First Cousins

Relationships in families are multi-dimensional. Sometimes we think only of the parent-child dynamic. Other times we think mostly about our sibling relationships when we reflect on family history. There are the generational distances with grandparents and uncles and aunts. And then there are the cousins.

My father, Robert Bergeson, died in 2006 and during the years since his passing, I’ve examined many of his photographs and documents to learn as much as possible about his life. The other day I came across a couple of photos that I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know exactly when they were taken, but they’re pictures from a visit that he made to his relatives in the Pacific Northwest. One of his first cousins on his mother’s side lived in Portland, Oregon and five of his cousins on his father’s side lived in Seattle, Washington.

Bob Bergeson; Martin, Orville and Bjarne Andvik

The photo above is my dad with three of his Seattle cousins. Martin, Orville and Bjarne Andvik were the sons of Olufina and Berge Andvik. Olufina was my grandfather Ragnvald’s older sister. I saw Bjarne on multiple occasions and I’ve written about him and his mother in a previous post (Tante Fina lived to be 100 years old). Bjarne was the oldest of the three and he was actually born in Norway as were his two half-siblings, Arnold and Sylvia. Orville and Martin were born in the United States, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting them. Martin and Bjarne have both passed, but Orville is still living in the Seattle area at the age of 87.

I know that Bob made this visit after my mother died in 1999, but I don’t the exact year or the motivation for his journey. However, finding the photograph in his file cabinet 15 years after his death makes me happy to know that he reconnected with his cousins one more time. I can only imagine the stories that they told each other about their lives, their careers and their families.

On the topic of cousins in my generation, Bob and his two brothers, Norman and Harold, each had four children. Holiday activities in childhood often involved two of these families visiting each other in their respective communities. Sometimes, all three groups would get together for a special occasion, for example, when the brothers’ parents, Ragnvald and Gladys, were visiting from either Chicago or Florida. When the twelve cousins were together, it was a noisy affair! The cohort’s ages spanned a decade by the time the youngest, Sara Marie and Thomas William were born. I was born in 1952 and Sara and Tom were born months apart in 1962. In the photograph below Sara and I bookend the group. I’m on the far left and Sara is on the far right in her dad’s arms.

Bergeson cousins in Northfield in 1963

The photo documents the last occasion on which we were all together in one place. Two of us have passed in the ensuing years. My brother, Paul Timothy, died in 1976 and Sara’s sister, Norma Jean, left us in 2018.

When the remaining cousins do assemble group photos are always taken, of course. However, it’s rare that all 10 of us are ever in the same place at the same time. The picture below was taken at Norma Jean’s funeral in Glenwood, MN (Sylvia, Glenn and Norma Jean). Pete and John on the left are Norm’s boys and I’m in the middle. Next to me is Jim, Hal’s third son by birth and next to Jim is Dave Gunderson, Pete and John’s half-brother.

Bergeson cousins in 2018: Pete, John, Dan, Jim and Dave (Gunderson)

One weekend in 2020 just before COVID-19 sidelined everyone, all ten of us were together once again in the same place. In February that year we met in Wisconsin Rapids, WI to celebrate the life of Uncle Hal who died the previous month. Someone snapped a photo of the whole group, but I don’t have a copy. If any readers of this post have one, please forward it to me!

It’s common for folks to know their first cousins and spend lots of time with them over the course of a lifetime. It’s less common to have long-standing relationships with second cousins and it’s rare these days to have that type of experience with third cousins. I have the great good fortune of enjoying relationships with all three levels of cousins in my extended family. That’s probably a good topic for a future post!

One thought on “First Cousins

  1. Thanks, cousin!! Such a joy to read and see this story!! Thank you!! I don’t remember the family get together because I was too young, but the picture is priceless. It must’ve been a fun family time. Grandma Gladys looks so happy. Wonderful memories.

    Love, Sara Marie 🙂

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