Cousins

Here in St. Paul, this evening, it rained extremely hard.  When Melissa and I left the university for the day, the outdoor temperature, according to the thermometer in the Volkswagen, was hovering north of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  The air had palpable qualities to it; throughout the afternoon, thunderstorms had been popping up all around the metro area.

These hot days, often stifling nights (on an extremely pleasant note, once the front moved through our area, this evening, the temperature dropped over 20 degrees), remind me our my childhood.  I could trot out one of those bullshit stories out about how things were different and much harsher when I was a kid; granted, the Jokela house, in Hibbing, did not have air conditioning (that house still does not); that’s not the point.  Early in the summer, as a kid, meant that, soon, my cousins and their mom – my mom’s sister – would be driving from their home north of Denver, Colorado, all the way up to Hibbing.

As very young children, my sister and I would fly stand-by with our mom to Colorado – to visit her sister Jane and her boys – our cousins. Mid-way through the 1980s, things flipped; Jane and the boys would drive up to Hibbing instead of us flying out there.

Looking back at my childhood, it seems so fleeting; just a flash in the pan, yet, I distinctly remember how it was such a brutal-feeling event when the cousins would packed up, and drive off in their minivan.   I would cry, my sister would cry.  It would be another hot and humid August to slog through, and then, the drudgery of public school would be upon us, again, the day after Labor Day; we would not see the cousins until the next summer.  There was no email or instant message in these days; you could call your cousin on the phone, but that was not the same as riding bikes – in person, swimming – in person, making model cars – in person, or being spell bound – in person – by the tales of adventure that could be had in wilds of rural Colorado.

For the most part, the bond all of us cousins had was a complete fluke.  We all happened to be relatively close in age; there is month between the oldest cousin, Michael, and my sister; there is three months between myself and  Ryan; Jon was the outlier, being the youngest, there were a couple years between Ryan and him.  There was four years in age between the mother-siblings; my mom being the older of the two.  If my mom had settled down earlier and her sister later, there might have been too much age between cousins for a bond to form.

As we children aged out of being mere kids and started to age into being mere teens, the cohort that was the cousins began to fall apart.  Michael noticed girls, and soon, when summer arrived, Jane would head to Minnesota with just Ryan and Jon.  The golden age of this cohort stands out strongly in my mind.  We fished on Perch Lake at a cabin our grandfather rented.  We hiked and made adventures in the woods around the cabin.   We put on hundreds of miles on the four-wheeler our dad had.  We would have imaginative games – often based loosely on whatever movie we had seen at the movie theatre earlier in the week.

The cohort that was the cousins abruptly fell completely apart when Jane died in late June of 1998.  Even if Jane had not passed, I wonder how much longer the cohort could have lasted.  Meghann, my sister, was off attending college, as was Michael.  I would be college-bound within a year; as would Ryan.   We were all moving in our own direction, and it was not toward one another.

I visited Colorado once or twice in the early 2000s; and again, when the cousins’ father passed away in 2010.  For the most part, all of the cousins have taken their own path.  Meghann has been living in Japan for the last three years; I have been in St. Paul for the last two; Michael and his wife live in Louisiana, and Ryan & Jon still call the greater Denver area home.

Even with Meghann living in Japan, thanks to technology and a penchant for travel, she and I have remained pretty close.  The Colorado cousins are a bit of a different story.  Jon visited Melissa and I once in, Proctor, in the 2003; he brought his big shaggy dog with for the trip.  As Jon hit his early twenties, like the rest of us, he took his own path.

The early twenties, so it seems, can be a hard inflection point.  You take a corner so hard, that you lose things that are trailing you.  It is much like when Melissa and I moved in together; it was an abrupt move that severed the weak links I had with college roommates.  Similar things happened with friends left in Hibbing when I moved to Duluth to attend school.  You hit a fork in the road, and, as Yogi Berra said, you take it; whether those in your surroundings take the same branch of the fork — that is a different question.

All is not lost, however.  I do not think the cohort will ever reunite for a another round of building a model of Cole Trickle’s 1990 yellow & green Chevrolet, nor do I think we will ever again pretend to be characters from Young Guns, the Great Outdoors, Crocodile Dundee, or any of the Police Academy movies, but there does remain chance to reconnect with absent kin.

Related Post: Summer Has Arrived (written: July 5, 2010)