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 Category:  General Non-Fiction
  Posted: April 12, 2021      Views: 80
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Retired Marine; retired high school teacher; married 35 years; father of three; five grandchildren; one rescue granddog.

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Chapter 4 of the book Fifty Days of Friendship
"Cousins" by Bill Schott

The hometown I grew up in was a small village built next to a lake. When Michigan was big into lumbering, back in the late 19th century, Otter Lake was a bustling burg where trees were cut, sawn, and sent to build homes all over the 'Thumb'.

The lake provided the water for an ice plant, which also serviced a wide area back when ice boxes were a method of preserving foods.

As a result of the successful use of the area, many families took root and spread out across the county from this central spot. This made for an extended family scenario where almost everyone was related to everyone else.

When I grew up in the sixties, I was a cousin to practically all the kids in town. The ones I saw the most were Doris, Walter, Janis, and Yale. They were my mom's brother's children.

They were all a bit on the odd side, which was made clear to me by the many influencers that a kid is surrounded by growing up. Aside from the taunts from rotten kids, my father made it clear that he didn't want to associate with either my uncle or his family. That was not told to me, but gleaned from repeated comments he would make openly to my mom, or mumble under his breath loud enough to be heard. I got the message -- they were 'special'.

When I was growing up, my mother was trying to finish her masters degree in special education. Since she was a school teacher, mother of six, and had no time to do that, she had to find people who were willing to babysit me at night or on weekends so she could drive seventy miles away to Eastern Michigan University for classes. My Aunt Phyllis was nice enough to help, which placed me in her home with my 'questionable' cousins on a regular basis.

Doris was red-haired, with a pale, freckled-face complexion, and a seemingly non-stop commentary on everything known. She tended to talk to the ceiling, while she leaned into my personal space, with a piercing voice that was, at best, intrusive.

Walter was what I assumed to be mentally challenged. I'm no expert, unlike seemingly everyone else in our community, but interactions were evidence to me that he was not normal. Hirsute, he seemed a bit simian as I recall now. When he spoke, it seemed like it took all his concentration and physical assistance to complete a thought. If someone were speaking to me while he was near, he would repeat the person's last word or two, as if in agreement or parroting them to become a part of the conversation.

Both Janis and Yale were what I have always regarded as 'regular' kids, who were surrounded by ignorance and apathy all their lives, resulting in their social retardation to the extent that they were lumped into the general opinion that the entire family was substandard.

As small children, we all played together as friends, before the eventual pressures of association worked on my sense of conformity, and I too began avoiding them.

I wish now that I had been a better cousin and friend, as well as a more understanding person.



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