Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just a smidgen less

It’s amazing how quickly time slides by us.  Day to day details take up our hours and before we know it a week passes, then a year, and much too soon, a lifetime.  One goal of my new lifestyle is to slow down and relish those hours before they become lost to the past tense stories of our lives.  I know that statement just got a big laugh from those of you who know good and well how much mileage I’ve covered in Seeker over the past 6 months, but there were good reasons for those long, hard road trips and they are about to be a thing of the past.  Soon I will be sitting in one spot for a month at a time or even more, but there was just one more thing I wanted to accomplish before I settled down.  I had to see Charlie Ray.

On my father’s side of the family most of the cousins were older than me and most, including my brothers, were boys.  My oldest brother Mike, while being the 4th of my grandfather Riggan’s grandchildren, had the distinction of being the first grand SON.  Soon more boys followed until 54/55 when my cousin Mary Frances and I were born.  Smidget, as I liked to call her, was born one week before her mother turned 40 despite her parents having been told for years that they were barren.  Perhaps because of her mother’s advanced age, I really don’t know, Smidget was born with Rheumatoid Arthritis which among other things, meant that at her grandest height she was able to stretch all the way to 4’9”.  I teased her once in the 60s saying that even Gidget was taller than her and the nickname Smidget was born.

We were thick friends as well as cousins and every summer I looked forward to spending time in Lebanon with Smidget and going swimming (in the water she was free without those heavy leg braces) at the pool, listening to The Beatles, The Monkeys, and all those other animal groups filled with shaggy headed boys.  Smidget might have been short in stature, but she was ten feet tall and wall to wall in spirit.  Lebanon High School never had a more boisterous booster, right up to the day she died her blood ran blue devil blue.  It was her sudden death this winter and the phone call I had to make that drove me to Arkansas this week.

You see, along with being the one with all the spirit, Mary Frances was the one who kept up with everyone in the family.  She knew just about everyone in Lebanon and at any given time could tell you where anyone of my cousins was living and how they were doing.  She wrote the letters, made the phone calls, and kept the contacts alive.  Her death at 56 was sudden and blessedly quick.  She spent her whole life battling pain and never complaining about it.  In return the universe took her quickly without making her suffer.  It was at her funeral that we realized no one had called Charlie Ray, and somehow I got the job.  An awkward task given that it was the first time we had talked in over 35 years.  One last time Smidget was connecting family members. 

We talked for a long time and Charlie’s wife Brenda remarked that she had talked to Mary Frances only a week before.  It was a sharp reminder to us of how quickly life can change.  I promised to come see them soon.  That was February, so I am considering 6 months soon.  Charlie Ray is still the handsome boy cousin I remember albeit a little grayer.  His voice sounds a lot like I remember his dad sounding and I can see hints of his dad in his facial expressions.  We swapped lots of stories about family and the places life has carried us.  We were both in the Navy – him in the 70s and me in the 80s.  Otherwise our lives took very different paths, but we still remembered Sundays and Christmases at Granny and Pee Paw’s farm.  I made a copy of an old Christmas photo and framed it for him as a gift.  We decided it must have been around 1958 because he remembers those new cowboy pistols.  That would make me about 3 and still a blonde.  For those of you who didn’t know I was ever a blonde, well, that probably explains a lot! 

The day ended with him rushing back to work, but I think I got him to thinking about retiring next year at 62.  I highly recommend it.  More time to slow down and enjoy the hours/days/weeks before they’re gone.  Smidget would agree.

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