Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three Cousins, an Aunt, and Two Uncles

Dad's been up a coupla times in the past few weeks. Dad's youngest brother died in Nam. My uncle lost his life by throwing himself over a fellow ranger. My uncle was a Green Beret and a Master Sargent.

Uncle Freddy lived in South Carolina. One summer vacation, we went to visit him and his family. My aunt was a tall willowy southern pregnant woman. She gave me a rosary out of deference to my own religious upbringing but allowed me to attend a service at the Southern Baptist church that the family belonged to. My two cousins had been trained to respond to their mom with choruses of "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am."

My cousins were loads of fun. I remember sitting in their bunk beds talking and laughing when we should have been sleeping. My youngest cousin who was then around five years old taught me a very risque ditty involving little black kids (the N-word was used) and a bed. With apologies to all to find this offensive:

Three little [black kids] sitting in a bed.
One fell out and the other two said,
"Boom-boom. I see your hiny.
Boom-boom. All black and shiny.
And if you don't hide it,
Then we shall bite it."

I had grown up in an openly prejudiced home but this little rhyme was far beyond anything I'd been exposed to. We were also taken to the Army-Navy pool across the border in North Carolina where I learned how to swim. We kids sang along to "They're coming to take you away ha ha..." on the transistor radio.

The base was large and there were houses and trees. The pool seemed to be in the middle of a hub. It was huge. There was also a kiddie pool but it was the gargantuan adult pool that attracted me. It was in that pool where I learned how to swim. I took to swimming like a fish to water. I loved the feeling of gliding through the water and I also did cannonballs off the diving board.

I can still see the layout of my aunt and uncle's house alongside a hill. There were also trees there and a yard. My dad and my uncle snuck out at midnight one night and rode down the hill in my cousins' two red wagons. Over breakfast the next morning, both were banged up but laughing about their escapade.

The time passed too quickly. One day we got into the car and drove back home. Several months later my third cousin had been born while my uncle was back in Nam. Then Uncle Freddie died.

The summer after my Uncle Freddie died, my dad and wife #2 took me and my then six year old girl cousin to Host Farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was there that we also swam in a pool, laughed and carried on like the two little girls that we were, and went on rides at an amusement park. We met another girl named Brook (no, not Brooke Shields). I ate six halves of grapefruit one morning for breakfast. Dad came out of a farmer's field with some stolen ears of corn. (Upon cooking them up at home, he discovered they were cow corn and not intended for human consumption. That was one of two times I saw my dad take something that wasn't his).

Sometime after that, my aunt married my oldest uncle. She and the three kids made the trek up north to another house-- a bulky colonial-- on a tree-lined street. My now middle girl cousin was sharing a bedroom unhappily with her younger sister by then. We went to visit one Christmas (dad was on wife #3 by that time) and my aunt had said something very rude to #3-- my aunt called her "a Jewess." We retreated hastily.

One summer day we went to visit. My middle cousin was a teen by that time and she had run away to Florida. She was back, having been picked up by a cousin from a different family and persuaded to return home. Middle cousin and I went for a walk in the neighborhood. She was smoking cigarettes by that time. My aunt was having fits over that. While middle cousin and I were out walking, my dad was back at the house listening to my aunt's distress.

All three cousins have grown up now. First and middle cousin have grown apart but still living up north. Aunt and oldest Uncle are divorced after having moved back down south. They are living in Florida. I got to see my oldest uncle recently at my half-sister's wedding. My middle cousin and her sister were also there. We got to sit together at a table during the reception. Middle cousin has two kids and is divorced. Little cousin has grown up with kids of her own by a preacher husband. They are living in Georgia. Middle cousin and I send each other e-mails once in awhile and Christmas cards every year. Kids grow up and parents fall apart and die. Memories are the thin thread that hold us together.

sapphoq on life