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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Fading from the page

© Another Day in the Country

My oldest living cousin, Johnny Lorei, 94, has flown with his wife Kathy, 90 from southern California to Kansas City to visit his siblings Glenn and Georgie.

My cousin Gary and I are driving to Lawrence to meet them all for lunch. Maybe I should have put all our ages; but let’s just admit everyone is over 70.

All of these cousins that I just mentioned grew up in and around Ramona. Ramona is where they went to school. It’s where their parents went for groceries or farm supplies. Ramona was where our grandparents lived out the last years of their life. Ramona was where their parents lived, even after retirement. Ramona was home!

And probably all of them, especially when they reached their teenage years, were looking for ways to get out of Ramona. For Johnny it was joining the Army Air Corps.

For Glenn a few years later it was joining the Navy.

For Gary’s older brother Keith, it was going to Vietnam — not really by choice, but the call to duty.

For cowboy Gary, it was eventually setting out for Colorado and greener pastures.

As I was growing up, here, there, and everywhere in small Kansas communities, I looked up to my older cousins. Phyllis Strickler was the oldest of the Schubert grandchildren — a few months older than Johnny. In my childish eyes, I thought she was beautiful, poised, and talented. Already a teenager when I came along, and the daughter of my Mom’s favorite sister Bertha, Phyllis was adored by the Schubert cousins. She’s gone now.

Next came Johnny — tall, dark, and handsome, as Schubert boys tended to be — in my eyes, of course. He married a young local girl from Durham that he met when he was home once on furlough, a pretty blond in high school, which made him — already in service — “the older man” waiting for his sweetheart to grow up. They married when she graduated from high school, lived in Kansas for a while, then migrated to California in search of opportunity.

Bud, Phyllis’s younger brother, was the next Schubert cousin. He grew up, worked for the U.S. Forestry Department, and died quite young by today’s standards, from lung cancer.

Glenn was next in the cousin line-up. I was a sophomore in high school when he joined the Navy and his mother Clara sent my mother a picture of him in uniform. I snatched the photo and put it in my billfold. While other girls would show pictures of boys they knew and yearned for, I, skinny and shy, could at least show them a picture of my handsome cousin.

Then came James, a couple of months older than me, who still lives in the area, and then there was me, “Patricia” as my Aunt Anna always called me — never Patty or Pat, proper names were important to her. I was followed by quite a crew: Marilyn, Janice, Georgia, another Phyllis, Keith, Alan, Gary, Will, Kent, Mark, Tim, and two Beckys.

Am I forgetting someone? Oh, yes, Jessica, my little sister, how could I leave her to last? She’s such a force of nature!

Most of us are still here, walking the planet. We’ve been blessed with good genetics; but time dims the glow in all of us, our imprint on the planet fading as we walk with a lighter and lighter tread and our voice becomes a whisper, as is Nature’s way, inevitably.

Johnny is a marker in life that has always been out there, still teaching into his 80s, just like I am. I laugh and remember proudly that both Uncle Hank and Aunt Frieda were still working at their jobs well into their 80s. This legacy is not to be underestimated!

And here we are, “getting together” again, to do what? Say “hello” again, say “goodbye,” again? Retell old stories, remember when, pick up the stitches of our past and weave yet, again, a coverlet from cold reality to warm our hearts?

Or perhaps our getting together will be a banner for the younger generation, a guiding light, showing them, “This is how you do it,” until you can’t. “You make your mark! Laugh a lot! Be kind to each other.”

I don’t know if my cousins even know that they’ve helped me through hard spots in my life. Being part of a family, I had not only their example of survival, but also their willingness to help, their stories shared of difficult times, their laughter, their tenacity — inherited, I’m sure from our Grandma Augusta Bentz Schubert, at keeping in touch.

It was a Tuesday when we all sat around the table, eating Stouffer’s lasagna. I’d brought picture books to show them of Ramona.

“How many buildings are left in town?” Johnny wanted to know.

“Who owns the house that used to be Cousin’s Corner?” someone else asked. “Do you still have Jakie’s place?”

We passed our smart phones around the table, sharing pictures of grown kids and grandchildren, new babies, old memories.

And then it was time to say goodbye. Johnny and Kathy were flying back to California, where they still live in their family home. It’s most likely the last time we will all be together. We all knew this; but we were so casual with one another.

We hugged, kissed each other — it’s a Schubert ritual — and said, “Bye-bye, love you!” and went on with another day in the country.

Last modified Oct. 14, 2021

 

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