I have been blessed with numerous cousins on both sides of my family. Due to where I was born in the mix, most of my cousins are either older or younger, and growing up, I never felt as though I had cousins who were considered playmates. My great-grandparents, grandparents and parents were mostly elder children, and their siblings seemed to trail behind them. Therefore, my parents’ first cousins were mostly a little older than myself. Those 2nd and 3rd cousins who were my age always seemed to live far away.

Now, at 44, I have begun to know a number of my cousins, and communicate with them fairly regularly. One cousin, in particular, is Dana Barmes Kleumke. Dana’s father, Uncle Danny, is my great-uncle – the younger brother of my grandfather. Uncle Danny andmy mother are nine months apart in age; therefore, he was more like a brother to my mother. Dana is about four years behind me in age, and seems to me, one of the most remarkable individuals. Her blog wears me out as she escorts us on her journey each day as a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her two sons, Mat and Joey. I know Dana’s mother, my Aunt Bonnie, has always been resourceful, but Dana make’s Martha Stewart and all the great names of resourcefulness appear shabby and lazy. I am busy in my own way, and I can appreciate the differences of our lives – but there are some mornings when I shake my head at all she has accomplished by the time I have taken my sugar, used the bathroom, fed the dog and cat, and prepared my cup of tea. Her blog is definitely worth reading.

I have a number of cousins who are Mother’s age who were/are teachers. Judy Smith-Hallett, her husband, Jerry Hallett, and Stan Daugherty were always so appealing to me because they were teachers. I was always interested in Judy, but we only managed to see one another at weddings and funerals where lengthy conversations were difficult, at best. After my grandfather died in June 2004, I have gotten to know Judy more, and love how she always has a seeming calmness about her.

Stan Daugherty was a well-known basketball coach in Central Indiana, and was at Elwood Community High School for several years. Fortunately, he was there my last three years of high school and was my Algebra teacher. Stan was later to become an invaluable role model as he was great at providing 2-3 different options to approach problem solving so that each student would understand. Today, as a teacher, I will keep finding the right path for each student until the mission is accomplished.

My other cousins – Janice Smith-Kleyla and Susan Hughes-Cleaver, from Mother’s side, were my bubbly cousins. Though I do not see them often, I always feel as though no time has elapsed.

My grandmother, Donna Clary-Barmes, had a much younger sister, Joyce Clary-Riser. Aunt Joyce, who lives in Alexandria, Indiana, has two daughters, Kim, 42 (lives in Florida), and Debbie, who will be 39 this June. Since Kim lives in Florida there is no contact, but I do have email contact with Debbie. Although they are my mother’s first cousins, they always seemed like my first cousins, and I always enjoy any time with them, as well as Aunt Joyce.

The sad part is – all of us are busy with our families – children, and for a good number, grandchildren. Debbie has children a little younger than mine, and Dana, as well as her two siblings, Daniel and Dama, are busy with their little ones. I wish we would all make a pact that at least one day each summer we could all come together for a picnic. I did have a Barmes Family reunion several years ago, and due to the  hecticness of some trying family issues, I was forced to abandon the planning of a second reunion. Hopefully this can be done, soon.

When Mother was born, one of the first relatives to see her was Uncle Raymond andAunt Betty (Church) Daugherty. Uncle Raymond was actually my Grandpa Leroy’s uncle, despite the fact Raymond was four months older than Grandpa. Grandma Donna and Aunt Betty had grown up together near Summitville, Indiana. Two best friends married an uncle and nephew. When I was born, according to my baby book, one of my first visits was from my great-great uncle andaunt, Raymond and Betty, andtheir sixteen year old son, Steve. When I adopted my first son, who was from Texas, I called Uncle Raymond and arranged to visit them in Spring, Texas, where they were living – and still are – with Steve. So, they had the honor of welcoming a third generation of our family’s line.

When I was little, Steve was at Ball State, along with Letterman, Jane Pauley, and Joyce DeWitt. He moved on to radio and television, popularly known in Indiana as Steve Michaels. Whenever we would see him at community events I was always so excited, and proud, that the well-known radio and television personality was my cousin. At one point, Steve had his own television show that aired early every morning. I rose, a good 45 minutes before I had to get up for school, and eat my breakfast while watching Steve on television. I know the content of the interviews was beyond my understanding, but all that mattered was the fact my cousin was on television.

As I grew older, I realized that Steve’s accomplishments were well within my grasp, and it hit home when I was hired to appear in a television special, FRED WARING’S AMERICA. I had no idea who Fred Waring was, and could not understand why my grandparents were so thrilled. They had always rejoiced in my accomplishments, but the idea of their grandson appearing on a Fred Waring program was monumental. One comment stuck with me. Grandma was telling one of her friends about the impending program, and said, “Oh, he’s just like our cousin, Steve Daugherty, who was on television.”

The fact I was going to be on television in a Fred Waring special did not mean nearly as much as being compared to my cousin, Steve.

Since visiting Steve, andhis parents, I have been in weekly, almost daily contact with Steve – personal emails, family history, fond remembrances, and always, a healthy plethora of (naughty) jokes! Thank God my sense of humor matches Steve’s.

I had received several emails these past few months regarding the health of Uncle Raymond and Aunt Betty, and it is sad to learn that, Aunt Betty espepcially, are not in the best of shape. While tending to his parents, Steve was also battling health issues.

Earlier this week, Steve wrote and shared he has pancreatic cancer.

Upon receiving the news, I pushed it to the back of my mind. While working through my health issues with heart-related items, it just seemed impossible that this sentence would be given to Steve. This morning, during our weekly Sunday chat, I could tell Mother is quite upset, though, as always, she maintains her typical calmness. She knew more about Steve’s condition, and began sharing the details. I was all too familiar with the life expectancy of those who battle pancreatic cancer, but in my mind these past few days, I could not connect it with Steve. Mother said Steve reported to her that it would be six months to a year.

It was a struggle for me to continue the remainder of our conversation because my mind descended into a fog. After hanging up, I sat at my desk and sobbed. After a few minutes, I decided to write Steve, reminding him to be courageous, and strong, for at the age of 44, I still looked to him as a hero, and a role model. Steve responded with a grateful note, and some words I shall always cherish. I do fear that this will bring down the already deteriorating health of Uncle Raymond and Aunt Betty.

As children, our heroes are unconquerable in life, and it is a struggle when we realize they are human. Despite the fact I have rejoiced in Steve’s human qualities, it is still agonizing for me to be reminded of the body’s finite, and sometimes, frail nature. Even knowing the unconquerable power of the spirit, I still wish pain and discomfort could be avoided for Steve. I am certain that this new chapter, this new journey – though wholly unexpected and undesired – will be one of growth, and appreciation, serving as a purpose for more than what any of us can immediately fathom… one of the beautiful, and great mysteries of life.

 

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