I grew up with cousins by the dozens. To be accurate, I actually had fifteen first cousins. On my father’s side, I am the oldest by far, the first child of a first child. On my mother’s side, the first four grandkids were girls, and I was the third of that bunch. Annette was the fourth, and we were born nine months apart. Since I have two younger brothers, Annette was more like the sister I always wished for than a cousin.
Annette was more like the sister I always wished for than a cousin.
Annette and I grew up together. Our families lived in tiny apartments upstairs from my grandparents right after WWII when housing was scarce. After the birth of my brother, I remember moving to the upper floor of a two-story house, which we also shared with Annette’s parents, my mother’s sister Aunt Mickey and her husband Uncle Phil. My cousins Steve and Annette, who were close in age, respectively, to my brother and me, supposedly lived on the lower floor of this house. In reality, the four of us were together constantly, and our relationship was more like that of siblings than cousins.
We lived in the two-flat on Cortland in Detroit until I was part-way through second grade. During this time, I remember an array of childhood experiences, and I can’t think of any that didn’t include Annette. We spent hours together digging a hole to China in the backyard that we called the “far distance.” We picked berries off a neighbor’s bush and were chased by a broom-swinging old man. We ran up and down the block together with the gang of neighborhood kids.
One memory that stands out was getting into trouble for creating a special potent of shaving cream mixed with every pill in Annette’s parents’ medicine cabinet. Because my uncle was bipolar, there were a lot of pills. That was probably the only time my aunt was truly angry with me. Another time we partners-in-crime cut the beautiful curls off of a neighborhood girl. In our defense, she asked us to give her a haircut.
I was a school year ahead of my cousin, so when she started first grade, it was my job (good grief, I had just turned seven) to walk her several blocks to and from school. Once, I couldn’t find her at the end of the day. I remember feeling terrified and crying, but Annette was fine. She had gone to Mickey’s candy store across from the school to buy candy buttons. Somehow, we found one another there and walked home sharing those buttons. Another time, Annette and I bought a box of stars at Mickey’s and plastered them all over ourselves in the hope that our parents would think we were exceptional students. During all the time I lived in Detroit, I was very close to Annette, and when we moved from Detroit to our own suburban home, it was a very painful separation.
Eventually, Annette’s family moved to another suburb not very far from where I lived. Still, we had to be driven to see one another, so our relationship was harder to maintain. Like many sisters, we had very different personalities. I was a shy homebody who loved to play with dolls and help my mother with my new baby brother. Annette was an extrovert who made friends very easily. We were constantly being compared. My mother wanted me to be more outgoing, and my aunt wanted Annette to be more studious. We drifted apart as friends, but our sister-bond remained.
Life happened. I went away for college while Annette stayed home. After that, we married, had children, and lived in different states. Sometimes, years would pass without much contact. When I visited the Detroit area, there were few opportunities to see her. I barely had enough time to spend with my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Annette and I would get together occasionally, mostly at family events, and would talk on the phone from time to time, mostly when one of us needed emotional support.
There was another reason we struggled to stay connected: a family feud. Unfortunately, my parents had unspecified issues with my cousin Annette. My mother unfairly blamed her for her sister’s, Annette’s mother’s, declining health and ultimate death. She also said something extremely hurtful to Annette. I will never know what it was. My mother was in her eighties when she said it and had no memory of what she said. Annette declined to share it with me.
Because of our separate busy lives and the feud, precious years were wasted. It was only after my father died and my mother was living alone in a retirement building that I convinced Annette to let it go. Thus, there was a brief period of reconciliation, and my mother was thrilled to have Annette back in her life.
Ultimately, we reestablished our relationship for a few years, made possible by the choice Annette and my mother made to let go of their anger, harsh judgments, and resentments, and to forgive. We mourned the deaths of our mothers, the true biological sisters, over many phone calls. Then tragedy struck. Annette was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2015. Her surgery was not successful and the cancer metastasized to her bones. The cancer broke her hip and ultimately her desire to fight it.
I visited Annette just before she died and I am glad I was able to tell her that I loved her. On May 31, 2016, my beloved cousin Annette died. She had hoped to live to celebrate her 70th birthday and her 50th anniversary, but that was not to be. I will always miss my cousin because, regardless of the years we were apart, those first seven years were part of our DNA, and she will always be my soul sister.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.