Today’s post was already drafted in my head until I got the news that my first cousin had died. Suddenly, what I had intended to say didn’t seem very important any more. I only had three first cousins in the world, and now one of them is gone. Turns out, he had the same rare lung disease as his mother, but he did not know it until a couple of years ago.
As far as I can remember, the last time I saw Rodney was more than twenty years ago. I had spoken with him by phone a couple of times, and we communicated by mail once a few years ago. When we were kids, we visited only a couple of times a year (summer and Christmas) at my grandparents’ house. Even so, I am feeling an overwhelming sadness at the thought that his dimpled smile and twinkling eyes are not in the world anymore.
My grandfather was a farmer, and every summer our big outing was to pile into the back of his pick-up and “go to the farm.” It seemed so far away then; now I realize how short the distance really was. We would watch him feed the cows and hang around for a while, and then, if memory serves me correctly, he would take us to DQ for a treat before going back to the house.
My aunt (my other cousin’s mother) was sort of the family photographer, I guess, and she got into the habit of taking a picture every summer of the five of us in the back of the truck. Our growth was pictorially recorded for several years thereafter. A while back I asked her about those pictures, and she found at least one and got prints for each of us. Now I am more eager than ever to have it.
My grandmother used to keep us informed about the distant cousins’ doings. Then my photographer aunt took over. Last night, during my conversation with Rodney’s sister, she said that her mother had done the same. She said, “I lived my life and Mother remembered it.” Mothers — I guess they are the glue that keep us connected. I too depend on my mother to tell me the news about the family instead of getting in touch myself.
A while back, my aunt said, “I always depended on Mother when I had family questions. Now, I wish I had asked her more.” Then she asked my mother, “Who will do the remembering when we’re gone?” She had said the same thing to my cousin Ellen when she had called to tell her about Rodney.
As Ellen and I finished our conversation, I said, “Stay in touch.”
She said, “I can’t promise.”
She’s right. I can’t promise, either. After all, we have not seen one another in more than thirty years, I guess. Only rarely have I spoken to her by phone. How have I kept up? She always sends my mother a Christmas card and letter. That has been the glue.
Yesterday, I was stunned to hear of Rodney’s passing. Today, I am aware of the hole in the photo of the five grandkids in the old Ford pick-up, and my heart is heavy with sadness that one of us is missing. I am also more aware than ever of the importance of the family gluesticks.
Even as we were not promising to stay in touch, Ellen and I did exchange email addresses, something we had never done before. After we hung up, I realized I did not ask her for her phone number, but then I was relieved to remember that it was on my caller ID. Today I had an email from her asking for my sister’s and my other cousin’s emails. I had my sister’s but not my cousin’s. I have to rectify that.
You moms hang onto that glue as long as you want to; whenever you’re ready, you can hand it over. I think we may finally be ready to learn how to use it.