Monday, July 18, 2022

Cousins Week

Every year, around the first week of July, a group of cousins who live 3,000 apart takes a hike to a low, rocky outcrop in Franconia Notch, locally known as Mt. Baldy. It’s not a long hike, nor a difficult one, but the view from the top is sweet – and it has become, over the past decade or so, a family tradition. 

📷: Michelle McCarthy
Hiking Mt. Baldy has been at the top of my California nephew’s New Hampshire to-do list since one of his first visits here. Back then, the kids were all small, and the trek seemed a long journey for little legs. Now, our crew of teenagers makes it from the trailhead sign – where they somewhat grudgingly pose for the obligatory annual Baldy photo – to the top in mere minutes. This summer, the littlest cousin, who lives just down the road, made her inaugural cousins hike up Baldy, perched comfortably on her mother’s back. That littlest is now learning to walk, and I imagine on the next cousins hike, she’ll be ready to scramble along on her own.

Over the years, the week of activities on the list for Cousins Week has shifted a bit, as some things are added and others removed. But a few things remain from one July to the next: the Baldy hike, a trip (or two) to Chutters to stock up on candy and fudge, riding in the back of the pickup through the woods road, and loading up kayaks and lunch to drive out to Long Pond and search for salamanders and loons. In recent years, we’ve added trips to favorite breweries, a few hot laps on mountain bikes along a wooded route, and a backyard fireworks display, since the visit generally falls around the Fourth of July (and backyard fireworks are not allowed in dry California).


My kids talk about the cousins visit throughout the year, and in the days before the Cali crew arrives, that talk is almost non-stop. While other summer mornings, if they are not working, they may lounge around and gradually get to breakfast and whatever comes next, the week the cousins are here, my kids are out of bed and pedaling their bikes up the driveway and around the corner to my folks’ house before I’ve poured my second cup of coffee. 


Cousins Week means Poppy pancakes for breakfast, card games on the porch, endless and intense rounds of badminton in the back yard. There are family dinners – where the youngest generation still sits at the kids’ table, even though they’re mostly grown-up size now. There is teasing (among both cousins and middle-aged siblings) and laughing and arguing over whether that birdie landed in or out on a court that has no boundaries. 


It’s the kind of togetherness that only happens when the parties don’t see each regularly, when they gather together only during this one stretch of days. 


None of us knows how many more summers we’ll have of this week together, as college looms and summer jobs require more time close to home and the kids phase out of, well, being kids. But however long they last, I’m guessing a cousins trek up Mt. Baldy will remain in the mix, right at the top of the list.

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appeared as Meghan's July 7, 2022 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.