Friday, October 16, 2015

Folks get older but memories are sweet

Have you ever noticed how old people around you are getting to be, especially family and friends? 
My wife gave me a very special gift on Columbus Day. We went to visit my cousins in St. Joseph County.
Most of my family piled in to Louise’s house. Her husband, my cousin, Glen “Junior", passed away several years ago. 
We had supper together and spent the evening laughing and reminiscing. 
How strange that all those folks are getting older. Me? I’m not feeling it.
Young adults called them Mom and Dad and there were a few grandchildren present. Surprisingly, all the kids seemed to know who I was though we hadn’t been to visit for many years. 
I am an only child and these wonderful people were the closest relations I had to brothers and sisters.
In fact, one of my cousins climbed up on the couch next to me one day. He was maybe 3 at the time, and said, "You know what? You're my bestest brother cousin." 
When my Aunt Janice passed away, I attended the funeral. I was sitting near the back of the room with everyone else when my cousin, Junior, came and got me. 
"She looked on you as one of her own kids," he said. "You come sit with the rest of the family." 
It was confusing at times because my cousin, Junior, was some 25 years older than me and his oldest child was two weeks older than me. It gets more confusing because her name is Linda and I married a Linda. 
Like many families, Mom and Dad would take me to visit my cousins, aunt and uncle regularly in the summer. Mom said we kids were always shy and we didn't really open up and start playing together until it was time to go home. 
That all changed the summer after my sophomore year in high school. Mom and Dad were both in the hospital that summer and they thought it would be better for me to stay with my aunt and uncle in North Liberty, Indiana.
Mom and Dad were older than most parents when I was born. Mom was 40 and Dad was 35. Needless to say, I was unexpected. To this day, when I see a container of birth control pills I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Mom said I was her miracle baby and I made it a point of reminding her about that. 
Aunt Janice and Uncle Glen had four boys. All but one have passed away now. Bob was the youngest and I am told he is not in the best of health.
Junior bought a 20-year-old Chevrolet pickup truck that had been repainted black. It sported a homemade wooden camper on the back. After work that summer, he often picked me up at my aunt’s house and took his sons for outings in that pickup we called the "fishing buggy." 
Never content to stay on the bank and fish, I always got too close to the edge and went home soggy more times than not. The lake we fished had a muck bottom that irritated my skin and as soon as they dropped me off at Aunt Janice’s house, I headed for a hot tub of water. 
One weekend, Junior took my uncle and the boys camping on a nearby farm. There was a creek running through the property and we camped there in tents. 
The weather was wet and windy when we arrived. We didn’t know until later a tornado touched down about a mile from where we were camping. 
After dark we started cooking hamburgers for supper. That was my job. 
We didn't have a grill with us and it was starting to storm so we didn’t try to dig out the frying pan Junior had packed. We tried to cook the hamburgers on the top of a camp stove. 
A Coleman stove is fired by Coleman fuel, also called white gas. It has an open grate on top so you can pump air into the fuel tank, turn on the burner and light it with a match. 
Every time the wind blew the fire out, I would pump the tank and shoot more fuel into the burner so I could light it again. I didn't realize the fuel was also shooting into the meat. 
To this day, we laugh about the "kerosene hamburgers," named for Aunt Bea's "kerosene cucumbers" on the Andy Griffith Show. 
During our visit on Columbus Day, “my bestest brother cousin,” Mark, told me they still had the old fishing buggy out back of the house. So, Gary, Mark and I went out. When I saw that old truck, the memories came washing over me so thick I could have brushed them from my eyes. 
"When I want to find a happy place, I think back to those days," I told the guys.
Now, my Linda and my cousin, Linda, are both grandmas. Two of my cousins are drawing Social Security and still working. One of my cousins is in marketing and has two kids (Luke is into the Minecraft computer game.) One is semi-retired after doing very well buying and selling motorcycles and parts on eBay. Others are busy with their own lives but they all took time to get together on Columbus Day so I could see them and we could reminisce. 
"You know Junior and Aunt Janice and Uncle Glen, were there, too," Linda said during our long drive home late Monday night. 

I believe they were and it makes me very happy though a little emotional.