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My Cousin, My Friend
by Beth Boswell Jacks



It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m sitting on the floor of my mother’s room at Indywood Personal Care Home. We’ve recently moved Mama here, and, as she states over and over, she’s “happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.”

But this day she has aches just annoying enough to keep her on the couch where she’s bolstered by pillows and cozied with a light afghan. I sit with her, chatting and arranging family pictures in a new photo album.

Soon we hear a tap on the door. Mama’s first-cousin, Bill, has come for a visit. Mama and Bill are a month apart in age, grew up together in Pace, Mississippi, and have been not only cousins but friends for almost 85 years.

Bill sits on the ottoman beside Mama and pats her hand.

“Beth,” Mama says, her blue eyes twinkling, “Bill’s the best cousin. He would just do anything in this world for me.”

Bill smiles and laughs and says they surely have had some good times over these many years.

They talk, and Mama’s puny feelings almost disappear. Her face glows.

Mama and Bill continue their visit as I sort through pictures. I find a small photo made two summers ago of two of my grandchildren. Meredith (then 5) and Wayne (then 3), devoted cousins, hold hands as they pose for the camera on a mountain trail in Colorado.

I’m reminded of a conversation between those two that summer as they played in the Colorado wildflowers outside my open kitchen window. Went like this:

"C'mon, Wayne, hold my hand,” Meredith said, “I'm gonna show you where the foxes are."

"Uh huh,” answered Wayne, the obedient cousin on this particular occasion.

Meredith rattles on.

“You 'member the secret passage? That's where we're going. We'll sneak up on the foxes and see the mama shake a mouse to death before she eats it while the daddy fox watches on the big rock . . ."

"Uh huh."

" . . . behind the house."

"Uh huh."

"Mama says she and your mama used to have a secret passage. They played there all the time and nobody, I mean nobody, could find them. That's what we'll do. We'll hide and nobody can find us and we'll live with the foxes down in their deep, deep hole--down there with all their furry babies and we'll eat mice and stuff like that."

[silence]

"Wayne, why aren't you talking?"

[silence]

"Wayne, you don't talk much. Well, doesn't matter 'cause we got to be quiet anyway or we'll scare the foxes and then they'll run off and we . . . You know what, Wayne? I saw the daddy fox and he had scruffy fur and looked terrible, and he probably has some terrible disease and if he bites you then you better watch out and get away from him and really watch out, I mean REALLY watch out, and don't dare get near him and--“

"I'm not going."

"Why, silly? You don't want to see the foxes? They're real cute. They got these long fluffy tails and I promise it's not that gross when the mama fox shakes the mouse and eats it. It doesn't bother me a bit, well, probably 'cause when I saw her she was shaking my cheesetoast I threw out the window, not a real mouse, but--"

[wails]

"Oh, okay, forget it. But Wayne, know what? You may be my cousin, but sometimes you just really, really, really zasperate me.”

.................

I sit there on the floor looking at the picture of Meredith and Wayne, then glance over at Mama and Bill. My crazy imagination begins to spin, taking me to Pace on a late summer day in 1923. I envision 5-year old Edith, my mother, barefooted, in a simple little cotton frock, her blond curls in ringlets framing a scrubbed face.

In my mind I see the child Edith as she grabs the hand of cousin Bill, also 5 years old, her favorite playmate, a typical little southern boy in his cut-off, grass-stained britches. She pulls him through the rocks and weeds along the bogue bank.

“Hold my hand, Bill” she whispers. “Shhhhh, we got to be quiet. C’mon, I’m gonna show you where the foxes are.”


_____________________


Beth Boswell Jacks, editor of USADEEPSOUTH.COM, has published numerous stories and poems in children's magazines and small literary journals. Two of her stories appeared in the Simon & Schuster CHOCOLATE series. Jacks is a freelance columnist for a number of Southern newspapers and is the author of three books, Grit, Guts, and Baseball: The Stories of Coach Sank Powe, which is about sports and race relations in the Mississippi Delta, and Snippets I and II, two collections of her newspaper columns.

Reach Beth at bethjacks@hotmail.com.



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