I think November-the-fourth was my cousin Diana's birthday. Whether it is or not, every year on the fourth of November, I think a lot about her.
My childhood came to an abrupt halt when we left my birth city of Des Moines when I was 10. We moved across the state where my parents would start a new church and life never felt quite the same to me. Wherever we lived after that, I always felt like a visitor, but was never "home."
But in Des Moines, other than the fact that I was indeed a Pentecostal preacher's daughter, which is a little "different," I did practically live the Leave-it-to-Beaver existance. Dad worked (AND pastored). Mom was at home with a fine apron collection. We lived in a big stucco house on a tree-lined street with an alley in the back, near which we burned our own trash. We created ballerinas from toothpicks and hollyhocks. I walked the few blocks to and from a school where classes began at 9:05 am and dismissed promptly at 3:10 pm. We chased fireflies on summer nights, outside with neighborhood friends way past dark, and our good neighbors would actually buy pretty rocks and shells from us (which we sold from old egg cartons) just to finance our trips to a corner grocery for penny candy.
Geez. I sound like I was born before electricity.
One great thing about my years in Des Moines was living near family. Almost all the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins lived nearby. There were lots of impromptu family gatherings. I could walk to Grandma Baker's house. And when I started school, my cousin Diana was there to escort me to Wallace Elementary, where she also attended.
Diana was only about 4 years older than me, but to me she was all-wise and fully mature. Anything she thought or said or did seemed glamorous and exciting. The cool thing about that is that she was not at all bothered by my adoration or hanging on. There was a softness and gentleness in her, a graciousness. She watched over me and out for me.
I remember some girls, Jill and Jacquita, being mean to me one day in the first grade. Usually they were my friends, but for some reason that day they weren't and it was very upsetting. I had had a really bad day and I told Diana the things they had done and said – something I'd never have mentioned to my parents. On the way home those girls ended up in front of us on the sidewalk and I cannot remember what Diana said to them, but whatever it was caused Jacquita, the daughter of my mom's Avon lady, to sit on some one's front stoop and cry. I felt a little bad for her, but I felt totally protected by Diana. The next day, Jill and Jacquita were nice to me again.
I have rarely seen Diana since I married over 26 years ago, or maybe even since she married over 34 years ago. She is a pastor's wife living in Illinois now – a long ways away. Time and space comes between us all. But when I do think of her, and that is often, I remember the ornery twinkle in her eye – she found humor all around. And I recall how she snuck fingernail polish to me when it was forbidden. She was the first person I ever watched fall in love and she let me in on the secrets of life and love. I recall singing a lot with her – she playing the blond-wood piano and singing lead, me belting out the alto ("Lonely road…Calvary's way was a lonely road…"). I remember her as a good and kind cousin and I think of her every November the fourth with great fondness.
A cousin is part sibling, the same blood coursing through your veins, and part best friend. There is the safety of a sibling and the excitement of a person with a whole new perspective and address. A cousin understands where you came from because they came from there, too, in a roundabout way. But they expose you to new things and your parents totally trust them in that.
If Diana's birthday was November 4, I hope it was vey happy.
pictured; My brother Joe recently forwarded this photo of Diana and her husband Tony and their grown children and grandkids to me. I still think she has the kindest eyes.
NOTE TO SELF: Maybe the holidays will be a time to catch up with the cousins…?