Archive for Thursday, September 17, 2009

Family memories become precious over time

September 17, 2009

I stay in fairly close touch with some of my family on Facebook. I love being able to get a glimpse of their lives and share mine with them without having to write them all separately. One of those persons is my cousin Charlene Trahern, who lives in the remote western Kansas city of Richfield. Charlene and I were cousins on the maternal side of my family. Her mother was my mother’s older sister. I remember her well from the times we had family gatherings, but we really didn’t become friends until our parents and grandparents were all deceased.

You see, I was several years younger and now that doesn’t mean anything, but when I was a youngster, it meant everything. No cool teenager wants to get too friendly with a snotty-nosed grade-schooler — especially if they are related. My cousin Charlene and her older sister, Virgie, were the oldest of the cousins and were elegantly dressed by my Aunt Alice who was a world-class seamstress. I just watched them laugh and talk together with the silent envy of heroine worship.

I never really knew the many members of my paternal family. Even though my father was one of 12 living children, he grew up in Hutchinson. This city was at a considerable distance from where we lived. It was in central Kansas and we lived on the periphery of southwestern Kansas. Our farm was surrounded by those owned by aunts and uncles and cousins on my mother’s side. The cousins who were our playmates were related to us through our mother. At family gatherings at my grandmother’s house, we cousins made the best of our time with the homemade food laid out at her generous table and played games with each other. Often, a lavish meal was followed by a trip to the local movie house. One of the adults would take us to the downtown theater, a few blocks away, and take back the house for adult conversations for the price of movie tickets. We, in turn, would watch John Wayne or Randolph Scott save the world for the good people as we shared popcorn.

Most of my cousins were female, but there were some notable exceptions such as my Aunt Evelyn’s two older boys—James Earl Ford, better known as Tex, and his younger brother Terry. She went on to bear two more boys and one daughter, but Tex and Terry were my peers. Tex was one year older and full of masculine bravado.

I worshiped him and was susceptible to his teasing. He was able to get me into situations which were problematical. We went to a one-room country school together, and I often was conned into doing his homework for him. This actually benefited me more than it did him. I missed the third grade due to illness and was able to go on to fourth grade. I still believe that doing all that third grade work while I was yet in second grade helped me skip third grade. So, after all these years I can thank him. He came out all right. After serving as a helicopter pilot in Laos and Vietnam in the early years of that conflict, he became an airline pilot and is now retired from that occupation. I haven’t seen him in years since he doesn’t live in the area anymore, but I saw his younger brother Terry when we went to a family reunion several years ago and drove out to Hugoton to see their mother, Aunt Evelyn.

Now, with all of my aunts and uncles on my maternal side gone, the few contacts I have with my cousins are precious to me — and somehow all the differences, which once existed age-wise with my cousins seem immaterial. When one is 10, a 12-year-old cousin seems sophisticated beyond belief. That now seems laughable in my senior-year status.

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