I have siblings, I just didn’t grow up with them. They were older by at least 10 years. So I spent my childhood with my cousins. We played a game called Shoot that we thought everyone played – everyone who had a hayloft and a ready supply of bored kids, that is. The shooter aimed at each of the players who faked their deaths ala movie stunt people. Rob always won because he was fearless. Heights did not scare him, he could flip in mid air, and he could land splay-legged like some weird spider. For lunch we took a sleeve of saltines and a jug of water (the only water we drank all day unless we turned on the hose in the milking parlor and we never got dehydrated!!) and picnicked by Turkey Rock, a boulder that forced the stream in our woods to curl around it. We made forts in abandoned calf sheds. We played statue tag. Winters, we dug through the farm house closets and came up with skates or we pulled sleds out to the hill in the farthest pasture until we were almost too numb to attempt the long walk back. Christmas Eve, crammed into our Nonnie’s four room apartment, we sat together at the end of her bed with our homemade pasta and, for the bravest among us, some of the seven kinds of fish she prepared.
We never thought about the future of our relationship. Why would we? Our parents wove in and out of each other’s lives as seamlessly as they must have when they lived together on Joshua Street in the house our grandmother still lived in. But we were not unlike any other children. We grew up. We had children of our own. We moved to different places.
This past week, we circled back again. Home for Aunt Rita’s funeral, even in our sadness, we felt a welcome familiarity at being together again. At Aunt Rita’s house, all those years ago, we had opened the giant wheel-shaped carrying case of Hot Wheels and battled over who drove what. We played pool. We poured cherry Koolaid out of a glass milk jug and made fun of one another’s mustaches. We thought we would always be kids and that our parents would always be there to shoo us outside.
We never understood how important those days playing together would be, how they laid the foundation for one of the balms that would allow us to bear the days of grieving that are also a part of life. In our sadness and in our fear, we can always look up and see the faces we remember, the bits of hay sticking in their hair, the sun filtering in through a knot hole, our voices traveling back to our mothers having coffee in the house, grateful we had something to occupy ourselves with for a little while.