Who have you known longer than anyone else and is still in your life? Parents and siblings don't count? Both my parents have "passed over to the other side." Even my brother isn't the person I've known longer than anyone else.
I had a friend, Sharon, who passed away a few years ago. She and I had been friends since 2nd grade and had kept up with each other over the years. Her passing hit me hard. It was like a big piece of my heart was taken away. I have another friend I've known a long time. I don't know exactly when Anna Lou and I first met, but we were best friends until after I graduated from high school. After both of us were married and started families, we lost contact. It's only been since 2004 that we found each other again, and that is through email now.
But the person I'm really speaking of is someone I've known since I was about four years old.
I remember having a picture taken when she was two and I was four. That's my first memory of my cousin, Jo Ann. We didn't live in the same town and probably didn't see each other very much until her family moved to Memphis, Texas, where our grandparents lived.
Jo Ann and I spent summers and holidays together. We spent hours in Mamaw's front bedroom playing paper dolls, creating exotic hats with feathers (where we got them is still a mystery), reading--we loved to read and both of us still do. In our grandparent's side yard we put on musicals for the neighborhood kids (think Little Rascals). We ran the neighborhood on our "pretend" horses, the Black Stallion and the Strawberry Roan, being Vera Ellen and Cyd Charisse (or Ava Gardner--whichever one I felt like at the time.) Our pretend boyfriends were Guy Madison for Jo Ann and Roy Rogers for me. (If you're so young you've never heard of these people, it's all right. Just think of the male and female actors of today you'd like to pretend to be.)
Our grandparents took us on fishing trips to Chama, Eagle Nest, Crede, Red River--through beautiful mountain scenery and we read all the way. Once at our destination we never lifted a fishing pole. We hiked and played, and when we were older, flirted with boys. We wrote a book of poems on one trip to Eagle Nest and always took time out of every day to read. Nancy Drew was one of the series of choice, but we read others, too. I especially remember "Yankee Stranger." I think I read it three or four times and still have a copy of the book. Jo Ann and I would read the same book and cast it with movie stars.
Young, unemcumbered with stress, fearless, content. We had a good life.
Then we grew up. Dang! I decided to get married when I was nineteen. Jo Ann and my grandfather cried at my wedding. Had I known some of my future, I might have cried, too.
We wrote letters for awhile. She was in college and later teaching. Our letters grew farther and farther apart. My life took some weird detours, and we weren't in touch much.
Then came email. Somehow we got back in touch again. I was widowed, and she had retired from teaching. We had time and started emailing back and forth. Today, it's at least one email every day. We've been together at our house, in Denver where she lives and have taken an England trip together.
I've known Jo Ann longer than anyone else in my life, even longer than my brother who is seven years younger than I am. I think she's known me longer, too, since her brother is 8 years younger than she is. Like with Sharon, a piece of my heart is tied to Jo Ann. I think it's that way for all of us. We have people in our lives that make places in our hearts forever. Of course, our families are there, our children and spouses, but friends, too.
More than a cousin, I consider Jo Ann a friend. She's having a birthday on the 5th of July. Happy Birthday, cousin and friend! I'm thankful to have you in my life.