I suppose many of us get sentimental during the various holidays for various reasons. Even the way we feel and express that sentimentality is different. Some of us didn't enjoy the holidays for one reason or another. Others of us had a glorious time. I grew up in a Catholic family at a time when my family went to church sporadically, and Santa Claus was magical and exciting. My dad had served in World War II and later in Korea. Each of those conflicts took him away from school and, after the second one, he never went back for his last semester. He had always written for newspapers, from high school, college and all the way through the navy. He married my mom and got a job as a cub reporter and photographer in Little Falls, New York where I was most likely conceived. Pretty soon they moved to Stamford, Connecticut and Dad started working his up through the ranks of the Stamford Advocate. Mom had grown up in Hempstead, New York, had gone to nursing school, and was working at a hospital as a Registered Nurse when she met Dad at an American Legion dance. It was the early 1950’s.
Christmas was both awesome and dreamlike for me and my brother while being stressful and nightmarish for our parents who had bought into the American Dream with it’s side dish of consumerism. Ever year was more spectacular than the next with piles of presents everywhere while Mom and Dad stretched themselves thin to create the magic. But it showed me another side of life, a side filled with magic with a sprinkle of hopes and dreams. Now, as an adult I can see the dark side of it clearly. After all, I was raised by them and learned from them. I have been to the dark side, but I can also see how much light was brought into the holiday in the form of magic.
Every Christmas Eve after dinner, we would all be together in the living room with a fire in the fireplace and without the television being on. We would sing a few songs then listen to our Christmas albums. There was always dancing. Mom and Dad were great dancers. I remember watching dad twirl mom around and dip her for a kiss. I remember standing on top of my dad's feet as he danced me around and learning how to do the Jitterbug. Dad's favorite Christmas album was Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song.” We also had Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” and albums by The Fred Waring Singers, the Norman Tabernacle Choir, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sing-along with Mitch, of course. There were so many, I can’t remember them all. My favorite was a Spike Jones album with a fun version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Spike Jones had a zany band and used sound effects for the different parts in the song, impossible to describe but, for a couple of kids in the 50s, it was hysterically funny. My brother and I would be rolling around laughing. It was always the best night ever. Then, after leaving cookies and milk for Santa, in the light of the Christmas Tree under which were a few tantalizing gifts, Dad would read. “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house …” My brother and I, too excited to sleep, but too exhausted not to, would trundle off to bed and fall fast asleep. Meanwhile downstairs, Mom and Dad hustled all of the presents from their hiding places and assembled the stockings while still finding time to dance to the records still playing.
Around midnight, Mom would excitedly come upstairs waking us kids while Dad, down by the fireplace, shouted, “Ho, ho, ho! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!” I remember waking up, rubbing the “sleepy bugs” out of my eyes, realizing that Santa had just left, and rushing to the window to look out at the sky. A few times I saw Santa as clear as day. Other times, I missed him. My brother rarely saw him, but he was a deep sleeper, and younger than me after all. We ran downstairs to the living room lit only by the lights from the tree and stood in awe. It was true magic. Then Mom made cocoa and brought out snacks and we started opening presents. Dad always doled out the presents, while Mom made sure the mess didn’t get out of control. We would get to play with our new things until one of us was really yawning. Then we would stumble back to bed and collapse until morning. I knew that Dad’s parents had done Christmas that way, but Dad confessed to me later in life that the reason he and Mom decided to keep that tradition was so that they could stay in bed late the next morning. They were definitely late-night people and still very much in love. We didn’t even miss them until our stomachs started growling. My brother always got up first and started playing with his new toys. He often got up with the sun. He often got up before dawn and watched “American Farmer” on television. But not me. I loved to sleep in the morning because that’s when I dreamed. I’d already seen my gifts, so they could wait while I dreamed of sugar plums and basked in the “spirit of Christmas.”
The rest of the day was full of music, games, lots of cooking and always drinking. Sometimes other family members came, or we traveled, usually to Niantic, Connecticut where my grandparents lived. Depending on where the celebration was, most of the aunts, uncles and cousins would be visiting. Sometimes it was just a couple of families, but it always included Uncle Lou and Aunt Marty with their three kids our ages. We spent most holidays and many weekends with them. Uncle Lou and Dad were brothers and although they had their rivalries, they both had kids that were the same age which was convenient and fun. I know that Aunt Marty and Mom both felt that their families were neglected with so much time being spent with the Blais side, but it was such a wonderful thing for the cousins. We were one big family. However, when it was the whole tribe of Blais that showed up, that was when the magic dissolved. The Blais didn't treat each other very kindly. They were mostly verbally abusive and drank a lot. Eventually, a fight would break out, usually involving my youngest uncle and one of the older cousins, but There were plenty of other dramatic scenes. Aunt N and Uncle H always yelled at each other, teaching all of us younger set a new language. Uncle H got a kick out of calling Santa Claus on the telephone right before Christmas to tell him that one of us, often my younger brother, was bad and don't come. My brother would burst into tears and an argument would ensue over his treatment. Every holiday was quite dramatic with many players. At some point in every fracas, my older female cousin would scream and faint, pausing the action long enough for some intervention and peace keeping. We usually left soon after the fainting.
When I became a mother, I tried to recreate the magic. Christmas Eve became an evening of music, fun and food. After the kids went off to bed, Paul Cavanaugh and I finished assembling toys, sometimes working long beyond midnight but taking time to enjoy each other’s company. Once everything was ready, I ran upstairs waking the kids and rushing them to the window where they just might catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh. Meanwhile, Paul was downstairs with sleighbells, shouting, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!” The kids walked into the living room lit up only by the tree and gazed in wonder. We opened stockings and gifts, and everyone went off to bed to find an easy morning whether you like to awaken early or sleep late.
The downside of my adult experience was that I was taught to overspend. I grew up in a neighborhood where most people seemed to have more than us. My parents struggled. In spite of this, they always provided Christmas. Paul and I struggled and wanted to do the same. But sometimes, it wasn’t feasible. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite Christmases was also one of our poorest times. Paul was out of work, and I was making less than minimum wage. We were living in Stephentown, New York in a mobile home we had bought with an inheritance. We had experienced a lot of moving pains and were still struggling to get back on our feet. I wasn’t sure if we would be having any Christmas at all. The true nature of Santa had already been revealed to the kids, so we didn't have to worry about broken hearts, just shattered dreams. One day in December I sat the family down together and explained the situation. I suggested that we give everyone something that we either made or found. I made sure to emphasize that find was not the same as take. I also offered to help with ideas and suggested making things together. It was such a fun month. We baked a lot, did crafts, and we sang all the time. Everyone took it seriously and thought about what they would give.
I knew that I would enjoy this unique holiday, but I also knew that when the kids went to school after the holiday and everyone was bragging about theirs gifts, they would be crushed. Because the kids were on the free lunch program in school, the school sent over a box of food sometimes for which we were always grateful. We didn't have to worry about food. One day, the Kiwanis Club came by with a box of gifts for the kids and a couple of things for me and Paul. They had gotten a li8st of needy families from the local schools. I started to cry. There was even an orange skateboard sticking up out of the top, a football, books and games. I don't remember most of the gifts that year, but I was given a Mickey Mouse watch that plays “It’s a Small World” by Paul who had found the face lying on the sidewalk one day as he was looking for work. I still own it, and it still doesn’t have a strap. I rarely put a new battery in it, but I often take it out and look at it, remembering that moment when I opened that box.
For a long time, I didn’t celebrate Christmas. When Paul and I divorced, I didn’t want to haggle over where the kids spent the holiday. I hated the consumerism that seemed to keep growing every season and longed for the magical side again. I decided to start celebrating the winter solstice. Paul could do Christmas if he wanted to. I moved out on Labor Day weekend. Our daughter had already moved out and was starting a family of her own. Our older son was living with his dad that first holiday season and our youngest son, who was three, lived with me. He believed in Santa and had experienced a couple of magical Christmases. How could I ask him to give that up? I thought long and hard about it and finally came up with a solution. Our new solstice ritual consisted of lighting a candle for every day starting on December 1st. As the nights were getting longer, we were bringing more light into our home. We lit the candles and held hands as we sang our candle song. I knew I wanted a special song to go along with the lighting and had learned this one years before in Girl Scouts. “Rise up oh flame, by thy light shining. Bring to us beauty, vision and joy.” It can be sung in a round with multiple part harmonies and sends a wonderful message. After singing that through for a while, we sang whatever anyone requested, sometimes Christmas Carols, sometimes Pop songs. Sometimes one of us had learned a new song or made one up and sang it. Sometimes we sang and sang, other times we sang one or two then read books or played games. It was a time to enjoy our together.
One of the things I had always hated about Christmas in the past was the anxiety that I felt as a child and later saw in my children and the children I worked with in school. As the month following Thanksgiving progressed, the children were bouncing off the walls with such a high level of anticipation, and the adults were stressed out and overstretched. In our house, because we lit candles every night, the snow fairies came randomly during the month leaving little gifts. Because there wasn’t that one big day to wait for, my son’s anxiety level was much lower than his peers. I could never compete with his friends’ families in the gifting department, but I created a magical scene that brought us closer together and that he could share with his friends when they slept over. The snow fairies were always prepared for a few extra kids.
I still light my candles throughout the month, softly singing my song. I still have my family over to celebrate on Solstice, or as close as I can get to it on a weekend. Until this year, the snow fairies always left a small gift bag with some useful things like lighters and homemade Chapstick, maybe some socks, little bits of candy, glow sticks or other light up toys and some nice small thing. Last year, I drafted all of the adults in the family to be official snow fairies. Each family or adult brought one thing for the bags. This year, all of the snow fairies are struggling, so we skipped it. We celebrated as a family, though we were missing a few, in our wide-open garage with two fires and a grill set up outside. I decorated the inside of the garage, trying to make it as festive as possible. I even used the extension ladder hanging horizontally on one wall, as a place to hang the lights and garland with ornaments hanging and battery powered led candles across the top and bottom. Mostly we huddled by the fire. We had fireworks in the snow and sang our song by the fire in parts, rounds, and comical descants. My current partner has always done Christmas on a small scale with homemade gifts and no big hurrah. He was not raised Catholic nor with much of any religion. His parents were a normal upper middle-class couple. On Friday, I will celebrate Christmas with him with wonderful food and a few small gifts. We may go for a walk in the quiet woods or maybe we’ll hunker down by the woodstove. Whatever we do, I know we will enjoy our time together in a stress-free place.
We took a circuitous route through the northern part of the US on our way to Oregon. Paul and I didn’t believe in taking a direct route if it could be avoided. We knew that the best sights and experiences were mostly to be had away from any tourists. It was on back roads where we would see the real country and meet the everyday people. We also didn’t mind backtracking because we had as much time as we wanted to take for this trip. We didn’t have to worry about money and had the whole summer ahead of us. We meandered our way through North and South Dakota went into Wyoming, back into Nebraska then headed south because we had friends that we wanted to visit friends in Colorado. It was July fourth as we drove through the flatlands of Colorado listening to The Grateful Dead and Doctor Demento on the radio. That night, every little town in the distance had a fireworks display. In addition to the fireworks, there was ball lightning bouncing across the plains. It was awesome and frightening simultaneously.
I’d never before seen this phenomenon and only experienced it one other time, a few years later when it came in through the window as I was watching “The Flight of Dragons” with the kids. Scientists can’t explain what causes this but have theorized many things. The following is from a National Geographic article written by Christina Nunez.
“Researchers from Lanzhou, China's Northwest Normal University inadvertently recorded a ball lightning event while studying a 2012 thunderstorm using video cameras and spectrometers. The ball appeared just after a lightning strike and traveled horizontally for about 10 meters (33 feet). The spectrometer detected silicon, iron, and calcium in the ball, all of which were also present in the local soil.
What causes ball lightning?
The Lanzhou researchers' paper supports the theory that ball lightning results from a ground strike that creates a reaction between oxygen and vaporized elements from the soil. This ionized air, or plasma, is the same condition that enables St. Elmo's Fire, the stationary glow that is sometimes confused with ball lightning.
The presence of glass may generate ball lightning, according to another theory published in 2012. Atmospheric ions could pile up at the surface of a window, producing enough of an electrical field on the other side to generate a discharge. Another study, published in 2016, suggests that microwave radiation produced when lightning strikes the ground could become encapsulated in a plasma bubble, resulting in ball lightning.”
The ball lightning in Colorado lasted much longer than a normal flash of lightening and moved horizontally. It also changed color as it moved. It was more exciting than the fireworks, but there were so many spectacular fireworks as well, it was difficult to know where to look. I know that I was glad I was not driving at the time and could really take it all in.
Remember our friend Vernon? He’s the one who had spent a summer with us in Oregon and was now moving from New Jersey to Colorado. We’d helped him pack up his U-Haul only a few days before we decided to leave on this trip. He had no idea we were traveling at the same time, so we decided to surprise him. I do love to surprise people. We figured he would be in Boulder by the time we got there, and at my insistence, he had shown me where he would be living on a street map of Boulder. He was to be our first stop in Colorado. I have a good memory for maps and am good at getting places. I knew I could find it, and I did. When we pulled up to his place, we saw that the U-Haul was in the driveway. We knocked on the door and, as he looked on with a shocked look, told him we’d come to help him unpack the truck since we’d helped him pack it. He had just arrived that day and had felt too tired to unload. Now, he was amazed at our timely arrival and incredibly happy for the help. We unloaded and helped with some of his unpacking of boxes, stayed with him for a few days then went on to another friend’s home.
We had met Debra many years before in Connecticut when Jessie was still just a toddler. She was originally from Florida and had not traveled much until now. She had never seen snow and arrived in the fall. I was thrilled to be with her when she saw her first snowfall. She was so excited. We went outside with Jessie and played for hours. Being in the snow with her that day had made me feel like a kid again. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun. Debra was an artist, making paintings on wood with the grain showing through slightly. I still have one of her pieces somewhere. She was the one who first had me try cocaine. She worked at a pharmacy and had taken a small vial of pure crystal cocaine. It was lovely, but I recognized immediately that it was a dangerous drug for me. Like the amphetamines I had done earlier in my life, it made me feel confident and less shy. I knew that I could easily get addicted to this expensive drug. Luckily, she only took that one small vial, so the temptation was quickly gone.
While she was in the Northeast, she discovered downhill skiing and loved it. She soon met Dennis, and they eventually moved to Colorado. We arrived at their beautiful house at the ten-thousand-foot level of the Rocky Mountains. We jumped out of the car, eager to see our old friend, and started running up the steep walk to the house. We quickly were out of breath. We all stopped, gasping and feeling light-headed when Debra came out. She explained that because we were so high up, it was important to move slowly. Than we all went inside, and she put water on for spaghetti. We were confused. It was noontime, and dinner wasn’t going to be for hours. She explained that it also took a long time for water to boil and food to cook at that altitude. It was all new to me and fascinating.
They had built the house themselves, and it was beautiful. There was a huge fireplace made from quartz they had found on the land, and the bathroom had a big clawfoot tub with a picture window with a breathtaking view of the Rockies. Because there was plenty of time before the water would boil, Dennis insisted on taking on a tour of the area. He was the head of the water department and had access to many roads that were not open to the public but were some of the most beautiful places around. We all piled into his pick-up truck and wound our way along many steep and winding roads deep into the mountains. It was all spectacular.
My mother had always collected rocks from various trips for her rock gardens, and I was starting to follow along in her footsteps. Mom even had people bring rocks from foreign countries which she then numbered and categorized. I hadn’t gone that far, but I loved gardening and was always on the lookout for beautiful rocks. Partway into our drive, the sky darkened, and Dennis decided it was time to go back. The thunderstorms up there were quite fierce and could be dangerous. It was time to get under cover. I insisted, against the adults’ opinions, on getting out of the truck to pick up a couple of rocks. I knew we’d be leaving early the next morning with no time for rock hunting. Reluctantly, Dennis told me to jump out and take something quick. The storm was coming in fast. I grabbed two mud encrusted rocks and hopped back in the bed of the truck. Paul laughed at what I had taken. I have to admit that they didn’t look like much. They were basically hunks of mud, but when we got back and I started cleaning them off, they turned out to be treasures. One of them had streaks of real silver, and the other one had holes all over with crystals growing inside like geodes. Paul wasn’t laughing now. Hours later, the water for dinner still wasn’t boiling, so Debra offered me a bath while we waited. It felt heavenly soaking in the hot water and gazing out at the snowcapped mountains after many days on the road. It was such a relaxed visit, and we were sad to see it end, but it was time to move on to the Pacific Northwest.
Paul and I were both excited to take our kids across the country again. Justin was now old enough to remember this trip and to be more actively involved in the planning, and Jessie always liked to travel. I was always prepared for a road trip with plenty of things on hand to keep them occupied during the boring segments of the journey, and now they were also both older and more engaged in the entire process. We finally had a reliable car that would take up the over six thousand miles from east to west and back again. That alone made the journey the least stressful of all. And it wasn’t a move but just a vacation, a lark.
The first stop was, of course, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to visit Paul’s friends and family that were still located there. We saw his old friend Dennis and his girlfriend Nigel. Dennis was an artist and had made underground comics, Kat and Heep. He and Nigel were into the punk scene at that time and eventually moved to Los Angeles. They had a punk band for a while, but Dennis ended up doing the artwork for triple X-rated movies. The ads and posters had to be discreet, so that was his job and, as he put it, it paid the rent. When we saw them in Pittsburgh, they were just beginning to plan their move out west. We also saw Paul’s aunt, uncle and cousin. Then we moved on to the Mid-West.
We showed the kids the archway in St. Louis, Missouri, “The Gateway to the West,” but most of the tourist attractions we visited were in South Dakota. I’ve always been fascinated by the quirky tourist attractions. Some of them are more well known than others, like Wall Drug. There are billboards for this oddity as far away as Minnesota and Wyoming. Of course, the kids were excited to visit. Basically, it’s a huge indoor mall with everything owned by just one family. But it has an interesting history.
In 1931, Ted Hustead bought a pharmacy in the town of Wall, South Dakota and moved there with his wife. It was a tiny town of 326 people who were all poor and struggling to get by. The Husteads were losing money fast until Mrs. Hustead came up with the idea of offering free ice water to travelers crossing the hot prairie. They put signs up along the road and, before long, they were doing a booming business. Who is ever going to go into a store for free ice water and not buy something else, anything else? Like most pharmacies in those days, they had a soda counter and a variety store. It continued to grow into this sprawling complex. Jessie and Justin both loved it. Even Paul and I had to admit that it was an adventure.
We also went to the Mitchell Corn Palace, also in South Dakota. It is made entirely of corncobs. Again, it’s one of those quirky places that is totally worth the visit. I wonder if the residents of South Dakota created these places out of sheer boredom or if they were just quirky themselves and all located to this common place. The Reptile Gardens was fun for most of us, but it freaked Jessie out. Although the poisonous snakes were kept in terrariums, she didn’t like having to step over and around the snakes on the ground. Even I was skeptical of walking underneath the ones hanging from the trees. We were all impressed with the giant tortoise. I am not usually a fan of zoos, but this was well run and seemed to treat all of the creatures respectfully.
Of course, we went through the Black Hills and the Badlands. They are spectacular. And Mount Rushmore was everything we expected it to be. We had heard they were building a monument to Crazy Horse nearby and wanted to go there, but it was not yet open for visitors, so we moved on to Wyoming. Justin was only interested in cowboys and that old west history, but Jessie and I quickly found out that Wyoming was the first state in which women were allowed to vote. On Dec. 10, 1869, the first Wyoming Territorial Assembly passed the Women's Suffrage Act granting women the right to vote and hold public office in the territory, putting them on equal footing with men. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, this right was written into Article 6 of the new constitution ensuring universal suffrage. Wyoming also boasted that they had the first town governed by women. Dubbed the "petticoat government" by the press, the town of Jackson, Wyoming elected three councilwomen, a female town marshal and a female mayor in 1920. Several of the women were reelected. They also had the first female Justice of the Peace in the United States. In 1870, Esther Hobart Morris was appointed in South Pass City. As soon as she took office, she charged her predecessor with failing to hand over the court’s records but eventually dropped the charges because of conflict of interest since she was both the plaintiff and the judge.
I’m sure there were many more things that I’ve since forgotten, and maybe my kids will fill in some of the blanks. I know that we took our time and enjoyed every minute of it while thoroughly enjoying each other’s company along the way. The most amazing thing of all was that Paul and I never fought once during this trip. I think it was because we were both relaxed, unfettered by the daily worries that usually plagued us. Even the kids got along for the most part, which was a miracle in itself. Paul and I had not been the best models for getting along and usually saw the results of that. But this trip was different. It was bringing us back together as a family, and it felt wonderful and hopeful.
Today is a difficult day. I found out last night that I lost one of my cousins. I hadn't seen or heard from him in years but was just thinking about him and his siblings that morning. I often have premonitions about people that I am close to. I even lit a candle in the late afternoon which is unusual for me. I always try to light a candle for those who have passed on but hadn't gotten the word yet. I guess I just knew without actually knowing.
Although I have been writing memoirs for a few years now, I haven't been writing about my early life. Those years were extremely difficult on many levels, and too hard to face in my writing. As a result of those tough days, I tend to isolate myself from family. There are many reasons for this that I won't go into here. Suffice it to say, I have always been the black sheep and usually felt ignored and criticized for my choices. I’ve never gotten any encouragement for being an artist. I was often chastised and told to “get a real job.” So, it’s been easier and healthier for me to just turn away from the family. Unfortunately, that meant distancing myself from my cousins as well, and I wasn’t alone in that.
I was born in August of 1953. My cousin Kenny was born in July of that same year. Our fathers were brothers and had a close relationship. They had spent a lot of time together before we were born and even more now that they were both new parents. They lived in Hempstead, Long Island, and we lived in Stamford, Connecticut, just across the Sound from each other. It was an easy hour-long trip. We would go spend the weekend or they would come to us. A couple of years later, Kenny’s brother Jimmy was born then his sister Nancy. My brother was born a month after Nancy. We were inseparable. I can’t even recount all of the good times we had together. There are too many to name.
We all had our trials within our families. Their father drank too much, like many members of the family. Our father believed in corporal punishment and frequently took the belt to us. Our mother was an “adult child of an alcoholic” which made her a control-freak to the extreme. I believe that she also might have been bi-polar, though she was never diagnosed. She was unpredictable and often created her own reality. It was not unusual for an innocent after school card game with her and my brother to suddenly turn bad because of some minor accident like a spilled drink. It always seemed to be my fault, and I would be sent to my room to await punishment from my dad hours later. By the time he came home, Mom had created a scenario in which I had caused some injury out of spite because I was losing the game. I never knew what was real and was convinced that I was crazy. After all, Mom couldn't be crazy. She was our mom.
My aunt and uncle’s house was my retreat. My brother didn’t like to leave home, but I was ready to go anywhere but home. Home always felt unsafe, but at their house I could be myself without worrying about “the belt.” So, as soon as I was old enough for sleepovers, I went by myself for weekends, vacations and often for a few weeks in the summer. Another favorite uncle lived nearby, also in Hempstead, and the cousins and I would walk to his house to visit. I have such vivid memories of playing in their finished basement watching my uncle’s train set under the stairs, of collecting and comparing Beatles trading cards and War of the World’s trading cards, of playing in the woods adjacent to our house and of enjoying the current music together. Both families even went together a few times to The New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York.
As we grew older, the families spent less time together. My surviving cousin surmised that this could have been because of an ongoing investigation my father was involved in looking into corruption within the local police department. At that time, there were death threats, vandalism, even a call to my mom that my sister had been kidnapped that turned out to be a hoax but was terrifying, nonetheless. Jimmy thought that perhaps my dad had discouraged their visits out of concern for their safety. In spite of this, Kenny and I still saw each other.
I met Paul Cavanaugh in 1974, fell in love and soon got an apartment together. This horrified my family. People didn’t really do that then unless they were amoral. In order to get a rental, we had to live in a grungy part of town with a terrible landlord who threatened regularly to throw us out when we complained about the leaking roof and more. When I brought Paul to meet my beloved uncle and aunt, Uncle Lou slammed the door in my face. I was devastated. However, Kenny came to visit us often. He would hop on his motorcycle, usually with his current girlfriend on the back and come down to party with us. Unfortunately, we both ended up partying too much, crashing and burning and eventually Paul and I moved away. We both went our separate ways and drifted apart.
You know how it is with old friends that you are out of touch with but when you get together, it’s like no time has passed? That’s how it was with us. I loved all three of these cousins, but there was something extra special about Kenny. We had a bond that was forged at my birth that couldn’t be broken. He even came to Connecticut once when I was in high school, being bullied mercilessly in school, encased in a steel and leather brace with no friends. He was a very handsome young man and took me to a school dance pretending to be my boyfriend, so that we could snub our noses at all the jealous girls.
The last time I saw him was after his sister Nancy died. I had recently reconnected with her when she moved to Red Hook, New York, both of us visiting back and forth like when we were younger. Nancy and Kenny both died of heart attacks way too young. Hopefully, they both went peacefully. Now Jimmy is the only one left in his family. As I said, it’s a sad time. There may not be a funeral that we can attend this time. Our families have not been particularly good at staying in touch, and that may not change. That leaves me with my memories, which are rich and full. I hope they knew how much I loved and treasured them.