The Memories of Cousins

Cousins are just siblings once removed, and if you're like me who had siblings who were quite a bit older they can be the first playmates, conspirators, or heroes we have; and in the case of say one named Julie or Rhonda they could be your first crushes.

These were the little folk you ran on lawns with holding up sparklers, or chasing lighting bugs. They were the ones you would tiptoe up old farmhouse stairs with, while listening to your parents play pinochle in the kitchen, to look for Uncle Everett’s stash of Playboy magazines. The aforementioned Rhonda, who at ten was the oldest of this particular group of pint-sized conspirators, seemed to know exactly where this treasure was kept. We, being Rhonda and three more of my farm kid cousins, plus Lance, who was the cousin closest to my age on my mother’s side and another city kid cousin as we were known by, had to have looked sneaky the day of our big search. I remember we had heard about this fabled collection of stuff children weren’t supposed to see, although we for the most part had no clue what it was. As we started up the stairs, one of my uncles, either Everett, Harry, or Leo reminded us again to stay out of the bedrooms, and further brought to mind the “footsteps” as they called them that were guarding these bastions of privacy.

My three farm kid cousins who were brothers always intimated me a little. They swore, and sneaked sips of beer from the cans on the kitchen table while the grownups haggled over the bids in a card game. And they seemed to be missing a body part or two every time I saw them. A finger or toe here or there became the sacrifices for working with things called Combines and Tractors. But I envied some parts of the rural life, especially when it came to unlimited target practice with pellet guns and swimming in irrigation ditches- as long as the current wasn’t too strong, they almost lost the youngest one once- on hot muggy Idaho afternoons.

In the farmhouse where my mother and her four sisters and five brothers were born there was a section of the floor in the hallway upstairs that had a grate in it. It was intended to be the way heat would enter from the kitchen below, but today it was where we posted our lookout, Lance, to watch for any sudden charging of my uncles up the stairs to thwart our search. Charging uncles weren’t on my mind, however, I was too worried thinking about the “footsteps” which could come out of a room to get us even if the door was closed, footsteps being flat of course and able to slip right under the door, as Uncle Leo would say.

We found our way into the room with the big chest in it. Rhonda assured us this is where our treasure lie. My eight year old mind was saying this is where the “footsteps” live. Clearly, Rhonda had no inclination to protect us from our fate, even though nobody ever said what these guardians would do to us, and soon had the chest open and our prize spread out on the floor. I remember the pictures, but what interested my formative mind were the cartoons. Little Annie Fanny became my focus point in those few minutes we had to rifle through the pages, and while my crush on Rhonda would never change, all of a sudden her allure had diminished a little with the new competition.We soon moved after that and I don’t remember seeing those cousins again, but for a time we had blast.

On my father’s side my closest cousin was Hughie, and we would spend many hours being lookouts for my Grandfather so he could smoke in the garage. We would be looking out for Grandma, and not just for him. Grandma had a way of always seeming to be a little bit pissed off, even while she was loving us.

My hero cousins would have been Jeff and Scott. Older than me by three and five years, respectively, they were the cool cats. They had transistor radios and could build tree houses and could do no wrong in my eyes. Their dad, Uncle Mike, was my dad’s youngest brother and undeniably the swashbuckler of the Fairless clan. He had been a minor league baseball player with the Tigers, an extra on the set of “Rawhide” because he looked like a real cowboy, so much so that he was even offered the advertising opportunity of being the Marlboro Man. I’m glad he turned that down, those actors ironically all died from lung cancer. He ran a large cattle ranch for years and then went into banking and real estate. A golden boy with golden offspring, they were three great role models.

My cousins in Jackson Hole were three brothers who were all older than me, Fred and Ricky being much more than Steve, but it was at their house that I felt as if I had a second home. My aunt Ruby, my mother’s closest sister, owned the local grocery store and her second husband, my Uncle Bill, had been a studio musician in Nashville and played with Bob Wills and others over a great career. Ruby, herself, could play a mean set of drums. Because of them, we were known by all the shopkeepers as we walked around Jackson Hole in the late 50’s, early 60’s. The family pet, an old horse named Strawberry, would patiently go with us. I must have watch Old Clover get hung a hundred times in the summers at the park with the antler arches.

So, cousins were there on the Fourth of July’s, Christmas and birthdays, along camping trips, weddings and funerals. They were our babysitters when we were younger, and those we sat for as we got older. They are great memories.

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