Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Cousin Mike

I spent many happy summers at my grandparents’ house in Amherst, a tiny town with red sand and heat and gorgeous days. While I was there, Grandmother allowed me to roam freely. My grandfather was a banker in Amherst and my grandmother was a gardener, artist, marvelous cook and so much fun to be with.

Across the street from my grandparents’ house, Aunt Alma (grandmother’s sister) and Uncle Neil lived with their youngest son, Mike, who was about four years older than me. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and had gorgeous sparkling blue eyes. He and I “played together”—or rather, he tolerated it when I tagged along behind him most of the time. In the picture to the right, he is giving me my first driving lesson in front of Aunt Alma’s house.

Mike was my idol. He was always the leader and I believe he thoroughly enjoyed that role. I was his willing follower and worshipping slave. Anything Mike said or did was perfect and I did it—from jumping off barns with Superman sheets tied around our necks to climbing their tall windmill to touch the blades to crawling up inside a nearby revival tent to listen to the Pentecostals (we called them “Holy Rollers”) sing and shout and wave their hands. This was a new kind of religion to me after our quiet and sedate Catholic experiences!

Mike and I loved to catch horny toads in Grandmother’s garden. We kept them in a shoe box with a little dirt and we gave them grass and bugs to eat. Mike showed me how to rub their tummies to make them go to sleep. We put them on the sidewalk and watched until they woke up and turned themselves over again. He warned me not to let the horny toads spit “tobacco” on me because he said it stained and did not wash off. And, of course, anything Mike told me I believed!

Mike led me into many adventures and some that my parents would shudder if they had known about. I loved him dearly. After my granddad died when I was about eight, I no longer went to Amherst and Mike and I did not meet again until a few years ago. However, when I heard that Mike married Jeannie, I was angry and jealous that he was no longer “my Mike.” When I heard that he had become a pilot for Delta I was very proud of “my Mike.”

A few years ago we met again at a family reunion and we sat up until late at night talking by a beautiful lake with a full moon. Everyone else was inside the lodge playing pool and poker and rummy, but Mike and I talked about “old times.” For a brief evening, he was once again “my Mike” with the sparkling blue eyes, but with a bit of grey in his thick black hair. We laughed over our adventures of so many years ago and he told me that I made him mad because, when he teased me, I ran to my grandmother and told on him and he got in trouble. He said that he stayed in trouble a lot in those days!

The picture on the left shows Mike all dressed up. I must admit that I never remember seeing him dressed like that. Most of the time our summer outfits consisted of t-shirts and shorts and no shoes.


  1. Oh Pat,
    That is a great story. I never knew you were so close in age to Mike. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
    cathy v

  2. Horny toads -- I remember what fun they were, but I never heard about the "tobacco juice." And how brave you were to climb the windmill - wow! I would have given at least my left arm to have a cousin like Mike. All my cousins were at least three years younger.

    What an adventurous girlhood you had. I bet your kids and grandkids are going to love reading these stories.

  3. Ritergal, I am not sure I was all that brave, but Mike was very persuasive and I did not want him to call me a sissy or anything like that! I shudder to think about some of the unsafe things that we did--luckily without any dire consequences.

  4. What a lovely story ... I didn't want it to end.

    I've browsed some of your other posts and you have a very nice writing style. I'm going to have to spend some more time, here, and read all of your posts.

    Btw ... thank you for your comments on my site.

    Take care!

    Small Footprints

  5. You have a nice blog, Pat! I remember a favorite childhood pastime catching American toads and holding them carefully because they would "pee," and they could shoot that for a distance. This was clear liquid, but maybe the horny toads had a similar defense mechanism if they were really scared.

  6. Thanks, Linda. It is amazing what we remember from our childhoods, isn't it?