Cousins

I’ve been so busy with running and hiking lately that by the time I sit down to blog about it, I seem to be writing nothing more than a quick account of where I went and what I saw. Trust me, though, I do carry long, languid, drifting thoughts and memories when running through the great meadows and forests.

But first, without further ado, here is the hammock stand that my husband made (I helped with part of it).

hammock

This is my new outdoor “hippie reading spot”, with hammock in place. I also won an Earth Hour idea prize for this idea. The photo above does not show the solar lamp as I have been bringing that in during the rainy nights. However, now we are getting a string of gloriously warm, sunny days coming up.

In my last blog post I gave a quick run-down of our long hike on Easter. Later that night I drank a couple wines and had a nice talk with my mother. She is now alone since my brother moved out; he just bought a house in a nearby town. On my Friday run I was overcome by thoughts about my growing up. Nearly every year, on Easter weekend, which usually coincided with spring break, we would head down South to the Appalachian Mountains and visit my Mammaw and Pappaw. My aunts, uncles, and cousins would all come too, though the tradition slowed down when my grandparents died, just a month apart from each other, when I turned 13. Our further visits were then to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area.

Those early years were filled with such good memories. When I was talking with my mother on Sunday evening, she told me of how she used to climb those mountains, up one ridge and down the next, then up another, until she would reach the highest point nearby and be able to see down into Hindman, the nearest town. My brother, cousins, and I did the same hikes. Since I was the youngest cousin, I was allowed to go on these day-long adventures with the older ones. My oldest cousin was six years older, so even when I was five, we were hiking up and down mountains, forever etching into my heart the great thrills of being outdoors, away from everyone else, except for my sweet cousins.

On Easter Sunday, we were expected to dress up and go to church, and I wasn’t really old enough to figure much out about religion then, but I did like the new spring weather, the many flowers and blooming trees, the large southern house with huge breakfasts and lunches and dinners, hunting for Easter eggs (which we would decorate and the parents would hide), the big yards to play in, the many rivers, lakes, and forested hills to explore.

eastereggs
Finding Easter eggs in my grandparents’ basement (little sister on the left, the eldest of my two brothers, and me on the back right)

It’s weird how childhood sometimes feels bigger than life. I can’t say I prefer to have those times back, except for the fact that many of the people central to my life then are no longer here, most particularly my dad and my Aunt Helen. With each year, we all get older and the time setting us apart from then is also a growing bridge, impossible to ever walk back on. My childhood was very reminiscent of big southern families, giant family reunions, and food. On vulnerable days I might now watch old movies whose mood fits my childhood experience: like Stand By Me and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have discovered that although my life now is full and sweet, with more dreams fulfilled than I ever thought possible–a truly loving partner, close relationships with mine and my husband’s family members, a growing network of similar adventurists and writers becoming good friends, a stable job, a beautiful place to live and run and hike, good health, and seemingly a bright future, I can’t help but really really miss the old times with my cousins.

We do still keep in touch, and even though may see each other only during a blue moon, our dynamic has never changed at all. When we’re together we easily chat like we did many years ago. Though we have all grown and branched out in many ways–religiously or not, ideologically, politically–something deep down has never changed. I think, because of the way we were raised, it has to do with unconditional love and treating others with respect. They are really caring, kind people who make me feel safe and loved. The last time we saw each other was about a year ago when Aunt Helen died. Seems the only times I have seen them in recent years were for weddings or funerals. A year before Aunt Helen died, we did a family style road trip just to see everyone. Instead of sitting around hiding Easter eggs or eating a big ham dinner, we’re more likely to sit on verandas sipping wine or beer–and I haven’t had any meat at all this year. Though as I went running on Friday, all the Easter memories of being with my cousins overwhelmed me with the idea of eating ham or fried chicken. I kind of equate delicious food with Dad being alive or being “home”.

When I was talking with Mom, I mentioned that maybe one of my cousins, whose husband is from Scotland, might like to visit Ireland with us this year, but I guess he’s not in the best of health. The reality of us all getting older is like a slap in the face. When younger, we think of all the places we want to go some day. All the people we want to see again someday. All the great dinners we want to plan someday. And suddenly we come to the realization that those somedays might not ever happen because people won’t be around, period. It’s a stark thing to think of it like that.

I think these things when running. I wonder how my own life will play out in my remaining years. I feel lucky to be able to run a few miles and hike all afternoon without any setbacks. I sense that kind of time period where it may end at any point in time. How many somedays do I have left? Do any of us have left? Will I see my cousins again, and under what circumstances. These are the only ones left I have known my entire life, outside my parents–one of which is no longer around.

I feel that I still do the same things I did back then–hike up mountain ridges and try to make tasty meals (albeit vegetarian these days). I have a hiking/running partner who is as sweet at my cousins ever were, and who is on my page when exploring unending paths. I also realized today that the last good hammock I liked to relax in was one from my childhood, on the property of one set of cousins’ place. I used to hang in that thing for hours. Same here–with this one. Where life changes, sometimes the most cherished moments stand still.