I was only three when we arrived in the city from the country, but I remember scenes from that day very well. My cousin Tom, age five, who lived a block away from our meager rent house was there to greet us, grinning big. He used to come to the farm a lot, so I knew him well. He was a great and imaginative companion. In fact, my earliest memory has to do with hunting birds with him, using his pop gun, the kind with a cork on a string.
Mother moved to the city as a recent widow, having found reasonable employment there. It was impossible for her to continue running the farm without her husband. So, when the job started, I stayed over at Cousin Tom’s house on most days. He was a late sleeper, so I often sat under the Chinaberry tree behind his house and peeled twigs until he stirred. He always seemed glad to find me so employed when he pulled the curtains back.
Our summer days were full of tadpoles, crawfish, bird dogs (his daddy had a bunch of them), and an ingenious older boy named Joe Glen, who, in our minds, could do anything. For example, he could whittle a cedar shingle into a boat shape, append a rubber band and modified pop-sickle stick thereunto, forming the coolest little paddle boat you ever saw. Those things were fast. He had also constructed several crystal radio sets that actually worked and a (luckily) non-functional one-man submarine from two hunks of metal and a garden hose.
So, Tom and I were more like brothers than cousins, spending so much time together as kids. I spent the night there at his house many times and was treated as one of the family. I seldom saw his daddy, a shadowy figure who shuffled and mumbled around the shaft of an ever-present cigar. Tom and I were not happy when Mother married a fellow who moved us across town. But, I was old enough to ride a bicycle then, so I would still spend many days over at his house. I remember some of those phone calls very well. He would say, “What you doing?” I would usually say, “Nothing,” being ever laconic and unwilling to divulge any of my projects. “Come over?” My answers were most often in the affirmative. It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to ride over there, depending on the traffic and he was always glad to see me roll up.
As we grew older, Joe Glen opened his own radio repair shop and Tom and I abandoned tadpoles, crawfish and bird dogs for swimming in a nearby pool and walking to town to the movies. If we could afford it, we would visit the drug store for cherry phosphates, our favorite fountain drinks. He reached the crazy age of girl interest before I did, but I did not mind. I had interests and friends in my own neighborhood by then.
Joe Glen prospered as technology complexified. Tom became a forester and you know what has become of me. I saw Tom at a memorial service the other day. He looked just like his daddy. We were genuinely glad to see each other.