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Crisp Apples in the Fall and the Importance of Connections

By Ann McAlpin, Executive Director

Family TreeLast week I went to Minnesota for the wedding of my first cousin once removed. I kind of got roped into this by my sister, who promised me crisp fall air, apples right off the tree, and the world’s best, most creamy straight-from-the-cow ice cream.

It wasn’t quite like that (although I did get the apples, and the ice cream and some unbelievable fried cheese curd in the bargain…) It was a flurry of wedding events, just like it would have been down the street in our hundred percent humidity, any time of year.

But here’s the thing. I delighted in several first cousins once removed and other relatives whom I had never met. (For those of you who think I’m showing off, a first cousin once removed is the son or daughter of a first cousin – the once removed is actually “one generation” removed. It works going upwards as well, but I’ll leave that alone.) I knew my first cousins from my childhood, but the other previously unknown relatives were all delightfully weird in their own ways. Among the expanded family, one is a gay activist, one is wildly tattooed, one is just-off-the-boat-Irish, one can play the harmonica like a mad virtuoso. Then there’s the requisite Harley owner and his (self-proclaimed) “Harley Chick”, and the magical, tow-headed, fairy princess flower girl (4) who danced and whirled without stopping until a First Cousin Once Removed physically picked her up and carried her downstairs and home. Just for starters.

Out of the hundred or so guests, I only knew two people, and I had not seen either of them for many years. But they are all my family. My heritage. My genetic connections. The sharers of generations past, and childhood stories, and memories of not-inherited green thumbs, and horrible hand-made ornaments, and iffy, home-made bathrooms. They are my family.

I could show up at the home of any one of them, even the most distant, and they would welcome me with food and wine and somewhere to sleep (and entertainment, if I show up at the home of the harmonica player or the magical tow-headed flower girl). And they’d be happy I showed up, even unannounced. We are connected.

At CASA, we have come to realize that our “job” does not stop with finding a permanent home for each child. That’s hugely important and life-changing. But equally life-changing is finding extended family for the kids. People who will send them birthday cards, invite them for Thanksgiving, pick up the phone when they call in a crisis. Relatives who will show up in their wonderful weirdness, while the message that “difference is not just OK, it’s good” seeps into every pore. Family.

As you settle in with your family during this holiday season, please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to CASA, to help us make future holidays a family event in some measure for kids who may not have seen “family” as a good thing. Families are warm, loving, weird, transformative. Please give, and help us find family for our kids.

And a great holiday season to you and all of your first cousins once or twice removed, second and third cousins, and all on the great tree of ancestry!!

Happy holidays!

Ann McAlpin, Executive Director