Aryn has been impossible to live with these past few weeks. Ever since Grandma called from the Nort’land and said they planned to swing by and pick her up on their way to Niagara Falls.
And they planned on bringing her bestest cousin along.
And then the questions . . .
“How many days until they get here?!”
“Where’s my suitcase?!?!”
“What am I gonna wear?!?!?!?!?”
They see each other once a year at most. Usually around the annual BeerGossipHorseshoeFest that is the family reunion. So a double dose of Aryn’s favorite cousin is always a good thing.
They couldn’t be more different. Robyn is a bean pole with attitude while Aryn is quiet and tentative . . . for the most part. But they both have a DS, love chocolate and fall asleep while talking.
And they started packing at least a week before departure.
I smile at all of this, remembering being just as pumped before a visit with my cousins from the Big D. Eddie is a year younger, Danny a year older. So, yeah, Eddie and I pretty much had a ball pestering the elder Stooge. We teased him mercilessly about his bright red hair, the way he stared into the mirror and coiffured the mess with Fonzie-like care using a big-handled comb that always stuck out of his back pocket. We’d listen to Dio’s “The Last in Line” or some southern-fried rock tune so loud he couldn’t hear Simon Le Bon squeak out “The Reflex.” Or we’d tag team him and tangle him up in some wrestling move, pushing the limits of the springs in the fold out couch we used for the “square circle,” making him whine for mercy, as Kerry Von Erick – The Modern Day Warrior! The Texas Tornado! – did the same to Nature Boy Ric Flair on late-night television.
But if I stuck around long enough we all ended up getting along fine. And we always went on the neatest adventures. Like the time we hopped in my aunt and uncle’s carpeted and cozy conversion van and drove to Port Aransas, stopping along the way to indulge in every young boys dream sandwich, a double-meat Whataburger, with fries and root beer. We scoured the beach for seashells in which we could hear the gurgling of the Gulf. And tossed Fritos in the air and ducked with laughter as a flock of seagulls gracefully snatched our mid-afternoon offering out of the happiest bluest sky I’d ever seen. I saw my first real shark; a hammerhead strung up and gutted, reeled in by some bronze, barrel-armed fisherman.
While there, someone noticed my ingrown toenails. Kind of hard to hide forever the bloody and festering stumps that were my big toes back then. Especially on a beach, where shoes and socks made one look silly. Like a city boy. So, once safely back in the Big D, my aunt took me to the doctor and stood by as he made me cry like a girl. I nearly had the same affect on the poor nurse whose fingers I crushed during the procedure. I survived, however, and during my recovery – lots of sitting around with my feet propped up on pillows while eating Blue Bell ice cream – my aunt and I had plenty of time to catch up. She is the only sibling of my birth mother, who died of a blood clot just before my first birthday. My aunt went above and beyond to see that I spent time with her boys. And having me around perhaps felt a bit like having her sister back again, if only for a few brief moments. Both were school teachers. So making sure my letters home were grammatically correct came honestly for her. And during that week she took me to the circus, where we watched anxiously as a performer who had fallen off a trapeze had to be taken away for medical treatment.
The good and the bad all rolled into one amazing trip.
But the times I remember the best are of the simple things me and my cousins did. We hung out with the kids in the youth group of their mega-Baptist church. Once we all gathered in church vans and went on a progressive treasure hunt. I saw areas of the city common to the other kids but exciting for me in an “I’ve-never-been-here-before!” sense; everyday experiences brought to new life because the faces and the places were unfamiliar. Like the coin-operated laundry mat with tumbling blue jeans and tank tops and those big wire laundry carts which we decided worked better as prams. Or the afternoon we spent at Eddie’s friend Joe Pat’s house playing Defender for hours on his Atari console. Or the trip to the movie theater where we cheered from the edge of our seats as Rocky pummeled Clubber Lang. “Eye of the Tiger” may still be Eddie’s favorite song ever.
Burying critically wounded green army men in backyard, only to disinter the ones we’d buried and forgotten after the last horrific battle. And the midnight chats on the couch discussing the moral implications of Journey’s “Open Arms” or the graces and hang-ups of girls, a few of which we were just starting to notice for the first time.
We chatted ourselves to sleep.
Just like my daughter and her cousin Robyn.
Before Aryn left this morning I took her to Best Buy and bought my girl her very first digital camera. I don’t want her to forget a single spray of Niagara Falls mist. Or the Cheshire-cat grin on her cousin’s face as they invade and occupy some poor unsuspecting hotel for a few carefree days of summer.
These are memories that should last a lifetime . . .
(Yo! Cuz! We haven’t been together since this picture was taken. Don’t you think it’s time . . . )