How are you? Fine I hope. I got a call from Cindy on Sunday telling me to jump in some clothes, we were all going to visit the aunts and cousins Would be here in 30 minutes. Well, since I can’t just jump in some clothes, I jumped in the tub for a five minute bath, did a five minute makeup job, spent five minutes picking out and pulling on clothes, and five minutes on the hair. Whew. And I had ten minutes to spare.
Why did I go to all that trouble? Cindy doesn’t just ask, she commands. And all us cousinly minions just say — OH-kay. Why, I don’t know. You just have to know Cindy. First cousin 14 years younger than me. She’s the product of my mother’s late sister Frances. Where she gets this bossy attitude I don’t know. Yes, Mike is sniggering over there. And he does call me Lucy van Pelt. But . . . you know . . . I just like to get things done. And that’s Cindy’s modus operandi. Git ‘er done! And if everyone else is dragging their feet, she ain’t havin’ it. Her philosophy is — family sticks together through thick and thin — if she has to be the glue that binds them. If I’m the keeper of the seal (family historian), Cindy is the one who tries to make sure we all continue as friends, comrades, and help in time of need.
First cousins are a blast. You don’t live in the same house with them so it’s easy to be friends, You’ve grown up around them and you have close blood ties, so you can be yourself. They’re more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Act like a barrel of monkeys, too. And as you’ll see, all us Duncan descendants are like Cindy. Gorgeous. Okay, so Cindy and my sister Katie drank a little deeper from that gene pool than some of us. Gotcha.
True to her word, Cindy slammed into my yard ten minutes later with Randy Duncan and his wife Julie in tow. Randy is the son of my late Uncle R.V. I hadn’t seen Randy in years because at one time he lived in Mobile. I had never met his wife Julie, who’s a bayou baby herself. After being cooped up with us all day, I wouldn’t be surprised if Julie has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We were extremely loud and boisterous. But she smiled often and was sweet and pleasant. A real trooper. Randy’s lucky to get her. On the way to our cousin Larry’s house, Cindy told me to call and let them know we were coming. To make sure they were awake and dressed. Didn’t want to just pop in on them. So I called and Larry’s wife Brenda answered. “Gotcher clothes on? We’ll be there in 20 minutes!” I said loudly into the phone. Brenda was not amused. “WHO IS this?” she demanded. “Brenda, Brenda, it’s me, Linda. We’re all coming to your house. Cindy’s driving.” And I filled her in on the Huns descending upon her well-kept and quiet household. Larry’s quiet, too. And sane. His Duncan genes got jumbled up somehow and produced a stable human being. But he’s a real nice guy, anyhow. Let me tell you about Larry by way of a riddle. There is only one month’s difference in mine and Larry’s age, yet we were born a year apart. See if you can figure that one out. Hee-hee-hee. He is the son of my late Uncle Shelly Duncan who was a decorated veteran of World War II, earning, among others, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Larry is a Vietnam veteran.
When we got there we all did the huggy thing, went into the living room, and immediately started yapping about all our aches and pains and surgeries and gripes and complaints. I mean, who else would listen to all that and actually care? We do. About each other. Larry had lost 40 pounds due to health problems. But that didn’t stop us laughing at ourselves and sharing stories. One story was about getting two “long lost” cousins together. Cousins who didn’t even know they were related.
You know how the young ones of the family lose track of relationships unless you have a family reunion once every year or so. So on the phone a few days before, Larry had shared the story of his pride and joy, his granddaughter Paden, who is going to college and is in the school dance line. Later on the phone I shared that story with our cousin Joan (she was the cousin who flew to California with Mom and me a few years ago). Joan told me that her great-something-niece, Sydney, went to the same college and was on the same dance line. Nobody knew. So when I shared that story with our group, Cindy jumped on the phone to Paden to let her know she was a third cousin to one of her dance line pals. We all would have loved to be a fly on the wall when those two got together.
After sharing some of my family history stories with them and producing a picture of our 4th great-grandfather Henry Wade, who fought in the War of 1812, we all piled into the computer room to look up pictures of the two dance line girls – who are gorgeous AND intelligent — and so Larry could run off copies of the ancestor for himself and Randy.
After that we piled back into the car to go visit Larry’s mother, Lois, age 84, and who is the main reason for making our trip today. She was recently diagnosed with cancer. Terminal. And she is just getting over breaking a hip. On the way, we were yapping and laughing and I just assumed Cindy knew where we were going. Well, you know what the word assume does. It makes an ass of U and me. Long past the turn off point, Cindy asks the loaded question. Where do we go? I looked around to get our bearings. “You gotta turn around,” I said. “It’s back the way we came.”
We groan, Cindy finds a turnaround, and on the way we stop at a gas station for sustenance – Mountain Dews and Ranch Doritos. We’re very health conscious cousins. So, even with the detour, we make it intact to our cousin Michael’s house, Larry’s younger brother. Our aunt Lois lives there now and Michael does a great job of taking care of her. He does the housekeeping and cooking, and let me tell you about this former U.S. Marine. He git’s ‘er done, too. Those floors shone, and a pot was bubbling on the stove.
It’s been a few years since we saw Lois and expected the worst with her health and all. But she was smiling, laughing, and beaming at us and we felt very welcome. She told me I didn’t look like Linda. Okay. The last time she saw me around 2001, I was a lot more skinny than I am now. “We all get old,” I said. She just grinned. Then we had to be introduced to the cat, whose name is “Here Kitty”. Really. It’s the official name they gave to the veterinarian. Michael had rescued it from off the streets “dumpster diving” and emaciated. He put a can of sardines on the porch and the cat never left. While we were there, Lois’s youngest sister came in and she commandeered the cat. I had not seen Michael in years and was surprised. He looked so much like his brother Phil, who died young with cancer not long after he came home from the military. “That’s a compliment,” said Michael quietly. And I knew, even after all these years, that the wound had not healed.
While Randy and Julie continued to visit with Lois, Michael took Cindy and me on a tour of the house to show us his art work. This was another surprise. There are several good artists in our Duncan line, but I had not known Michael was one of them. I noted that in his two main drawings — one of a large wooden cross entwined with flowers, and an eagle in full flight — he had included something like a scroll with words and names written in calligraphy upon each one, almost like a signature. They were quite good. Then he showed us the picture of his dad with his medals down the side of the photo. The actual medals are in a case on the wall. Then he showed us a picture of his dad at a young age with some men back in The Great Depression.
Michael didn’t know what the picture was exactly, so I told him it was a CCC Camp (Civilian Conservation Corp), a work relief program which was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from 1933 to 1942 .Then Michael opened up a large floor chest and it was full of old pictures. He invited me back to go through them with him. I was thrilled. But I didn’t get a picture of Michael. He was camera shy that day. As we were leaving, Michael showed us his neat garden beds. His mother had wanted turnip greens so he planted her some. And he talked about how good his tomatoes did this year. We promised to come back soon and talked about a Duncan family reunion. I really hope we can git ‘er done.
On the way to our Aunt Fay’s house — the youngest of 13 Duncan siblings — we detoured to Noble Hill Cemetery, where many of our family are buried, including Papa Duncan’s parents, Ben and Lillie (our great-grandparents); and Papa’s grandfather, our Civil War great-great-grandfather, Henry Duncan. Larry and Michael’s’ dad and brother Phillip, are also buried there, but in the newer section. The old section is across the road from the church.
I had not been there in years, and the gravestones were scattered over knolls filled with weeds, briars, nettles, and those little round things that cling to your clothes when you walk through. I did know we should turn to the left parallel to the highway, so we all went tramping through, then split up to look. I found the Duncan stone first. Maybe my memory isn’t that bad after all. We took pictures, and Cindy came up with some story she had read about leaving a penny on the gravestones for each visitor. So Randy dug out his pennies and here we went. Cindy promised to look the story up again so she could tell us what it all meant. Then we promised to come back soon and clean up graves in both the old and new sections. There were many Civil War veterans buried near Henry Duncan, so this part of the cemetery was rife with Confederate flags. There were still a few flowers on the graves, too, so someone remembered them.
It was now late afternoon so we stopped at Western Sizzlin’ to eat before going on to Fay’s. We were sighing with relief when that cold iced tea came around. Cindy bought and filled a plate to go for Fay and her youngest son Mark. Our cousin Mark was in a traffic accident about 24 years ago and has been a quadriplegic ever since. And the Alabama Crimson Tide’s greatest fan. Since Fay decided he needed some competition to keep his blood stirring, she opted to cheer on Alabama’s greatest foe — Auburn. She proudly wears her orange while Mark’s room is dripping with the red tide Alabama paraphernalia.
While we were there, Fay wanted us to take a half-gallon of milk (check out the milk jug pic) over to her sister’s house (our Aunt Artria), and I had to take her the ancestor’s picture I had promised a while back. Randy had not seen Artria in years and she had never met Julie. At almost 86, Artria is rather frail, but derned if she’ll admit it. The only concession she made to health and age while we were there was to allow Randy to hold her hand while she showed us her gorgeous Confederate rose-bush in her back yard, and yelled at the kids with the bonfire across the street. She knows them all by name and I can guarantee you they know hers. She’s a pistol and hasn’t lost much of her high-spirited ammunition along the way. She hasn’t come far from her Sand Mountain roots. (She’s cousin Joan’s mother).
Now we were homeward bound. While en route my normally high body temperature went into hell mode and Cindy cranked up the AC to a high-powered wind off a glacier setting. Randy was thankful to be in the back seat, but he still had icicles dripping off his nose. After about five minutes I had cooled back down to a mere high noon in Texas temperature and the whole car load breathed a sigh of relief as Cindy put the AC back on an almost normal setting. Randy decided there and then that, though he didn’t know Mike that well, he deserved a medal, maybe even some money. When Mike came out on the porch when we arrived, Randy walked up, shook his hand, and declared he was so thankful to him for taking me off their hands. The family resources could never have held up to me for very long. I just grinned. Julie has already said she was feeling the heat.
Cindy told Randy to invest in a good electric blanket. I told him to invest in some electrically heated underwear so he wouldn’t freeze his rear end off. Cindy’s eyes widened and she turned to Randy with this parting shot. “Just don’t get them wet”.