I was the youngest cousin on both sides of the family for a while: I think I was 9 or 10 when Scott & Dottie got married, bringing Jimmy into the family and not long later their daughter Cindy was born. On the Harlow side, there were 7 older cousins and my brother when I was born. When I was 2, Uncle Bert & Aunt Sue S, who had difficulty having children of their own, adopted my cousin Wendy, who is exactly one week younger than I am.
My grandmother latched onto out close birth dates and treated us very much like twins, an idea I can understand now that I have two children very close in age, but being treated like a twin did not sit well at all with me as a child.
At big Christmas gatherings, I would try to sit as far away from Wendy as possible so my gift would be a surprise – with more than 10 grandchildren, my grandmother made all our gifts and there are only so many gift ideas one can come up with every year. Wendy, wanting to be close to me, never quite understood what I was trying to do, and often moved closer to me. If I complained about this, I was chastised, and Wendy got her wish to sit close by, and we tried to coordinate present opening.
I vividly remember a family birthday party – we were 5 or 6 – and Wendy wanted so much to celebrate with me, to celebrate her birthday at the same time as mine that I threw a tantrum and ruined my own party. Both of our actions and reactions, I understand now thanks to my own kids, are perfectly normal for children that age, but I have felt awful for years about things like this; I should have been closer, shared more, done more, been more, instead of just being okay with the kid I was.
When Wendy and I were small, Uncle Bert & Aunt Sue S lived in a house off of Bowman Road (I’m not sure which house), which is off the North Road in Barnard, VT. I have 3 memories of that house.
I remember going there for dinner once, which probably happened often because my Mom and Uncle Bert were very close and my Dad and Uncle Bert got along like long-lost brothers. Shortly after we were done eating, Aunt Sue S made Wendy go to bed while my brother and I played quietly and the grown-ups continued talking. I remember feeling bad for Wendy, feeling guilty that my Mom wasn’t so strict with bedtime. I also remember that house as being really open, light, and that it had a lot of exposed wood (maybe it was an A-Frame?).
I also remember my Dad fooling around driving home once. We got to the bottom of the hill on Bowman Road and Dad wiggled the steering wheel back & forth on the flat part before Bowman meets the North Road. Mom asked him to stop and of course, smiling, he did it again to be funny and annoying. I enjoy doing things like that as well and try to walk that fine line between being funny and annoying.
The last memory I have of that house is sledding down Bowman Road. Uncle Bert, I think, borrowed a long toboggan (or two?) from someone and we all brought our sleds and went sledding one moonlit night. Bowman Road is (was?) a dirt road, which is plowed in winter, but it was basically packed snow that night. I don’t remember how many times we went down the hill, but I do remember riding on the toboggan only once or twice. I remember that it was slippery and, as any good sledder knows, you don’t walk in your sled track (likely tire tracks), you walk up the hill next to them.
For a while, my parents spent a lot of time with Uncle Bert & Aunt Sue S. Uncle Bert was (and still is) a carpenter, although his work is exceptional and he is more of a craftsman. I’m not sure what Aunt Sue S. did, but I do remember her always being friendly to me, which made me feel bad for my cousins.
After my brother moved into his own room, she and my mother drew pictures on the walls in my room – the decorating budget had been blown on his room and the plaster and lathe walls in the house required a lot of work to update. I’m not sure how the existing wall-paper stayed up even after it was painted (I think before we moved in). So Aunt Sue S. and my mother spent an afternoon drawing on the walls in my room; I remember Raggedy Ann, who was larger than even they were. A large, smiling yellow sunshine, with rays come of out of it, and maybe a large sunflower and/or a bee. I did have part of the wall that I was allowed to draw on, but that quickly lost its’ allure since it wasn’t forbidden anymore.
I’m not quite sure when or how things started to go bad, but our two families grew distant. Uncle Bert and Aunt Sue S. divorced and each remarried. I know from my cousins that growing up in Sue’s house was not pleasant and that she was not the most nurturing mother to them. The last time I saw her was at Wendy’s wedding; I was polite, but avoided her as much as possible. I doubt that I would recognize her on the street.
Sometimes, my family feels like Humpty Dumpy – never to be put together again, nor should it be. All of the family members who have divorced are better people because of it; they were all able to grow, learn, accomplish things they never would have had they stayed married to the same people. I just wish they had been able to be better parents then (and some of them, better parents now) and kept us all safe and protected. As a parent, I consider that to be one of my most important jobs, though not to the point of being a helicopter mom. The dangers to your children are not all on the playground or in playing in the street or climbing that tree: some of the dangers come in the form of people that you know.