Tag Archives: cousins

What to Wear on Christmas Eve

sue's sweater

…and there it was, hanging right in front of me.

Once again it is Christmas Eve. I have been invited this evening to a friend’s home for tamales before going to the Candlelight Service. I have known this friend for about six years. I think this is the fourth year of invitations. I have been trying all day to figure out what I want to wear. It makes little difference at our church. There will be many in jeans and several in new outfits with every style in between. I guess that’s one of the reasons I like going to this place. I have never felt any sense of pretension. It really isn’t a matter of what one wears.

I have not bought any new clothes for Christmas in more years than I can count. Actually after twenty years of being unchurched, it has only been eight years that I have attempted to attend. My memory of Christmas Eves does not extend much beyond that.

I have a black long sleeve tee that is decorated with an embroidered cardinal and sequined white poinsettia  flowers. The cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, my home state, so it is a little connection with home, even though I haven’t lived there in thirty five years. The cardinal is a beautiful symbol for Christmas and winter I think.

“The cardinal makes a fantastic animal totem. It reminds us to hold ourselves with pride – not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility”. I tend to hold back in crowds. I thought perhaps if I wear the cardinal I can be a little more joyous.

“As we observe the cardinal – particularly against the backdrop of the stark winter months, we are reminded that even when things appear bleak or isolated, there is always the presence of beauty, hope, and love”. The tee was a gift from my cousin’s family. She transitioned two years ago. The top still had its tags on. I had been with her when she bought it. The cardinal was her favorite totem. I wanted to feel close to her tonight.

I mentally went through other things in my closet. It’s not supposed to get really colder until tomorrow when it might snow. I don’t think it will, however. I think any snow will stop about forty five miles north of us around Denton.

I washed a couple of loads of clothes and hung them on my rack in the laundry room. And there was my answer hanging right in front of me. The very last time I saw my cousin she was wearing a new sweater. When we hugged, I was amazed by the softness of the weave. It felt so like her. Her husband asked me to take whatever I wanted when I left because by that time it was a matter of weeks. I couldn’t get myself to take anything without feeling very uncomfortable. I kind of felt I would be in the deathbed scene of Scrooge when the chambermaids were stealing the curtains before he was even dead.  I did ask him to mail me a couple of things when he was able to get around to it. That sweater was one of the few things I felt I truly wanted.

So tonight I am wearing that sweater. It will be warm enough to wear without a coat as opposed to the thinner tee. It will be soft and cuddly and I will be sharing  the service with Sue once again feeling her loving arms wrapped around me. The number of people I share this holiday with has almost entirely dwindled away but the spirit of my gentle, talented cousin will be with me to the end…at least until the sweater and the tee become too tattered to wear. Merry Christmas, y’all. Namaste. Attic Annie


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On the Road again…can I travel it again so soon?

I have several cousins and a sister, but there is only one left with whom I am in contact with very often. She was three years ahead of me in school. When we were very young, we played together frequently. This blog is not necessarily in chronological order.

I can’t remember walking the mile home from grade school with her very often because she moved on to high school after my fifth grade year, but I know we did.  My sister graduated to high school when I finished second grade so my cousin took over the job of walking me home safely.

One day she tripped and got some cinders in her knee. The whole village was a massive coal area. We could never fall down anywhere without skinning our knees and ending up with black flecks forever embedded in our skin. She kind of limped the last four or so blocks to my house and I took her upstairs to the bathroom. She sat on the landing with her feet on the steps while I washed the injury and applied the Watkins petroleum jelly. Why would I remember that? Because she thanked me and told me I did a good job helping her. I didn’t hear praise in my house. I tended to remember those moments.

She was much more a sister to me than my biological sibling. I can remember a few things from our childhood. I was a semi-frequent dinner guest. I believe it was in fourth grade when I was sitting at the table using my spoon as a shovel. My aunt noticed and made the comment, ” Aren’t they teaching you ANY table manners at home?” The truth was that, no, no one was paying much attention to me in any area of my life. I think she was more frustrated with the absence of any parenting but I took it as a failure on my part. I remember feeling my face turn hot and glancing at my cousin who just kind of put her head down.

We would play in the living room with my cousin’s toys while her mother played the piano. I used to love to listen to her playing and signing.  We played in her bedroom. One day I attempted a summersault and my heel hit her in her chest. It must have been when she was first aware of becoming a woman. She said, ” If I can’t breastfeed my children because of this, I’ll never forgive you.” She clutched her hands to her chest. That was my first lesson in female biology. I had no idea what breastfeeding was about. I never asked her about that when we were older.I carried that guilt and fear that I had permanently injured her for years.  She has two sons in their forties. I guess their infancies turned out alright.

For the earlier part of my childhood the road ended after her house. There were many wild berry bushes and we would spend many summer hours picking those berries. Eventually the road was constructed through the berry patches and across the ditch to extend it another couple of blocks and new houses were built further down the road and the wild berry picking days were over.

We made mud pies together in her back yard when it rained. Her dad also had berry bushes back there and we would pick the sweetest red raspberries and blackberries and take them into the house. We’d set ourselves down at the table and eat those berries with sugar and whole milk and think we were in heaven.

Her mother saw to it that I had a few outings since there was no one at my home all week who would take me anywhere. I remember the sled trip to the park and sliding down the hills. I also remember attending the children’s theater held in the auditorium of the junior high school. There were 3 D movies and trips to the drive-in complete with sacks of popcorn popped on the stove by my aunt.

Her parents gave her a 45 rpm record player and she had at least a couple of Elvis Presley records that we would sit on her bedroom floor and listen to. She began playing clarinet and I would listen to her practice. Her first three years of high school we didn’t really do that much together. Then when I was a freshman and she was a senior, we were both in band and she would provide the transportation to band events. Afterwards we would drive into the south side of Peoria and go to something called a drive-in where we bought a 15c hamburger, 10c French fries, and a 10c coke after the games.

Too soon she was off to college out of town. We wrote letters occasionally but seldom saw each other. Then I was off to college too. She married and within a year or so had a son during my final year of college. I visited her once and we sat on the swing of the house she and her husband were living in. We’d see each other at family gatherings maybe a few times a year but at that point we were leading separate lives.

She and her husband built their own home while her two boys were still quite young. She was leading her married life and I was the single 70s teacher. Our lives couldn’t have been much further apart. I married, moved away, and wrote once in a while to her father who would relay news between the two of us.

The last time I saw her for many years was at a family Thanksgiving when my son was not yet two months old. The two of us took a walk after lunch. I confessed to her I felt  that having my son was the only thing I had done right in the world. I could tell her that because I knew she would understand.

I guess it was about fifteen or so years ago when the cousins started to meet every two years for a family reunion. She and I gravitated towards each other once again. The only reason I would go would be to see her. Somewhere along that time line something was developed for mass communication called email. She was reluctant to get a computer but was finally yanked into the end of the 20th century. Long distance rates plummeted to where they were reasonable and at last cell phones.

We had ways of communicating now that kept us in touch far more often than before. We became close again. Sometimes I think we are closer now than we have ever been.

Some time in the not too distant future that closeness will end. She had breast cancer about three or so years ago and every year was a milestone that it didn’t return. In some people the effects of the chemotherapy and radiation she endured causes an aggressive form of leukemia.

She called me a few of days ago to tell me she was going into the hospital and about all the aggressive therapy they had planned for her. She called me last evening. I had planned to give her a couple of days to get into the routine of the hospital stay before I called her but she beat me to it. Her voice sounded more firm and energetic like she had already gotten some energy back. She told me that there was a 40% chance that she could go into remission. I thought that sounded somewhat positive because she had fought so hard during her earlier chemo days. Then she said there would be a 15% chance that it wouldn’t reoccur. It dawned on me suddenly what she was telling me. She said she checked herself back out of the hospital and would be spending the rest of her days with her family.

I just walked down this same road with my oldest childhood friend whom I lost in November. It is not going to be easy. I promised I would giver her time with her family before I flew back up to see her and spend time with her. She talked about the peace and calmness that her decision gave her. She’s ready. I’m not. I’ve got to work on that so when I do see her we don’t spend the time crying. I’m hoping she can provide me with some memories I have forgotten. We make each other laugh all the time. That is my prayer that when I see her we will laugh until we cry one more time.



Filed under Casual conversation, childhood, diary, family, friendship, grief, life, musings, relationships, transition

Bad sad news

It is difficult hearing bad news about family members. I have a cousin with whom I have kept contact off and on for many years. Most of the time it’s been more off than on.

She started to send me jokes and political comments and “Say this prayer” type things in emails a few years ago. We didn’t usually exchange to much of anything personal, but it was a way to keep in touch.

We have one other cousin who grew up with us. but we lost track of Janice a few years back and have not been able to figure a way to contact her. We just plain don’t know where she is now. Her home phone land lines no longer work. Janice was the oldest cousin of mother’s side of the family. She was, or is, twelve years older than I am. I don’t have many memories of doing anything with her. I babysat for her when her kids were young then I went away to college and very seldom saw her. I have no idea what her daughters’ names are or where they live.

Anyway, that leaves Diane. I noticed she hadn’t sent any emails for a while so I wrote to ask her if all was well. A couple of weeks later she wrote back replying that she and her husband were down in Florida for the winter. She said that Roger was having trouble keeping his balance and was falling frequently. She said a couple of weeks ago that he was going in for testing.

Today I received the same email that she sent to all her email friends. The diagnosis is not good. Roger has been diagnosed with ALS. She apologized for probably not being on line very often from now on.

Roger and Diane married right out of high school. Neither one of them had a cent to their name. Their first apartment was smaller than a two car garage. I can barely remember it because I think I was in sixth grade when they got married. From what I remember it was a bedroom and a kitchen. It must have had a bath but I’m not sure.

I was twelve when their first daughter was born. Diane called me to babysit at first during the day. They had graduated to a three room house. This one had a kitchen, a living area and a bedroom. A year later a second daughter was born. Some time after that they bought a two bedroom house that had a basement for the girls to play in. I also lost track of Diane once I started college.

She and Roger stayed in the same home their entire marriage in the same small community where we grew up. They were both good at fixing up houses so they started buying rent houses to supplement their income. Roger was a very good handyman. He stayed with the same company all his working career.

They started traveling when the girls were out of the house and went all over the world. Roger kept that small house in good condition. It always looked nice. They had no desire to climb up in the world. They are both very plain people who lived a very plain life, but they did it together. I think they’ve been married fifty-two years and are still happy with each other. That’s a rare thing these days.

Diane was very close to being a sister to me when I was growing up. She and my sister were the same age, born in the same month. My own sister was always too busy feeling the angst of having to put up with a younger sister, but not Diane. Diane would actually spend time with me. My mother died before I was four. I spent most of those first three years living with Diane and her parents. I guess that is when we had the chance to bond while my sister and I were kept separated. My sister stayed in the house with our mother and father while I lived next door until my mother’s funeral.

It is sad to hear of anyone getting ALS but it is especially sad when it affects someone you love. Diane and Roger will both be seventy this year. Heaven only knows how long they will have to deal with this burden. Sometimes people with ALS live an average of three to five years. Sometimes they live longer. Sometimes ALS goes into remission automatically although no one knows why.

Diane has not been alone at night since the day they married. She has a lot of adjusting to do. I know that one daughter lives fairly close by but I don’t know about the other. I am hoping she gets all the support she needs from the friends she has maintained throughout the years. Living as far away as I do, I know I will not be of much support.

My heart is heavy today with the news. Diane and Roger are what used to be called “the salt of the earth” type people.  In this day and age they are a rarity to have stuck together in a loving relationship for so long. The last time I was home, Roger was out cutting the grass with his shirt off. He certainly still looked extremely healthy. I’m hoping their union will last long enough to give Diane an opportunity to let him go gradually. She deserves that much at least. Namaste. Attic Annie

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