My cousin, who I actually called my aunt out of age difference and respect, died twenty years ago this month. I remember almost all the times I went to her house to play with my "cousin" Rose. I would include her brothers, but two were older than us so we were really more or less pests to them and the other just tortured the crap out of us. I remember her best friend, the next door neighbor. On the few rare occasions we were all together, her friend and I used to butt heads. I think that was more of a personality conflict than anything else. I remember the pool in my cousin's yard. I was terrified of it - I think it was because either my brother or one of Rose's brothers tried to drown me. I'm sure that was just an "accident". I remember the garden in the yard. I remember the house. Even with my crap memory, it still feels like I can go to that house and point out exactly where the piano was or where my cousin's picture used to hang on the wall in the living room. It seems like yesterday but it's actually been forever.
What I don't remember are my grandparents. They passed on before I was born. I never had an old person spoil me or think I was God's gift to humanity. No, I take that back. I had my Aunt Ann and my Uncle Eric. She was my mom's sister and he was my aunt's second husband. They were the closest I ever had to grandparents. My Uncle used to buy Cracker Jack at the corner store. He would get a box and he would buy one for me. I got to keep both prizes. Oh yeah, I was the bomb with my "lick your arm" tattoos and mini-joke books. He always called me Mike. Why? Who knew. But NO ONE else was permitted. My brother called me Mike in front of my Uncle just once. My bro got the lecture of a lifetime. Learned his ass a lesson. My Aunt (who I fondly referred to as my "Nan" until the day she died) could never correct me if I did something stupid. If she did, my Uncle was there to tell her to "knock it off". I was his little Mike. He even bought me a car when I was two at Christmas. Not a real car (oh how I wish I had a car from 1970), but a shiny red metal car with pedals under the hood. i couldn't even reach the damn pedals. He even had my initials put on the doors in gold leaf ... real fancy like. he spoiled my backside rotten.
But I was also a sickly child. From the age of almost two until I was eight, I would have bacterial pneumonia at least five times a year. Found out years later that I was actually allergic to my own immune system. No lie. An allergist explained that whenever I caught anything like a simple cold, my body worked against stopping it - actually bolstering the germs and shutting down my immune system.
I don't recall all the hospital stays - only a few. Back then, you're ass was in the hospital for pneumonia, especially bacterial. Blue Cross must have loved my Dad. I distinctly remember one particular hospital stay. I woke up in the morning coughing - just coughing like a cold. I had a full blown cold in the afternoon. At night, I was in the car to Frankford Hospital with a fever over 102, chills, unable to breathe, and barfing up my lungs. I was four. Mom brought me Colorforms and puzzle books during the week. One day, Mom came in looking rather sad. She told me my Uncle Eric was very sick and he was now an angel in Heaven. I was clueless. I asked if he wanted to stay with me in the hospital. Quite frankly, that's all I remember.
He died while I was in the hospital and I barely remember my Mom telling me. As I get older, I barely remember him at all. I have one photo and that's it - nothing else as a visual to jog my memory at all. Mom always tells me he has been my guardian angel and I believe it. I just want to remember.
Today, my dad comes home from the hospital. The baby has been up my ass to go see Pop-Pop. I told her that after school today we'll go see Pop-Pop. It actually scared me this time - his being in the hospital. He's old. He may be cantankerous and stubborn but he is still old with health issues. And his littlest grandchild is only two. And she is going to see him today.
And I'm taking the videocamera.