Eyes as bright and blue as the summer sky, and voice scratching and new. The scratchy voice spoke to me after prompting from his mother. Explaining the game he was working on, I could only nod and give a kind smile. Not being a mother myself yet, I studied this boy with amazement. Curious, calm and cute as a button, that scratchy voice and the boy that it accompanied and I began to become acquainted. He sat next to me at meals that weekend and I tried to figure out how to talk to this little human.
The following summer I was even more a part of the family, but not officially. The scratchy voice was still with him, but he was growing. At least two inches taller and mildly more coordinated, my soon- to-be husband and I secretly giggled while we watched his oversized head steer his body around the makeshift kickball field in the backyard at Grandma’s house. So determined for his team to win, he’d run as fast as his little legs would take him. It seemed to me that the rest of the family members were taking it easy on him when it was his turn, all except his sisters. There was plenty of squabbling between all of them while they huddled in the corner of grandma’s living room where she kept the hand me down toys. Legos were his thing, always building, concentrating.
Every summer we saw him and every other Christmas or Thanksgiving. I looked forward to seeing him and his sisters; they brought energy and life to the otherwise quiet family gatherings.
At six years old he started to call me Aunt Sue. He was the obvious choice for the ring bearer in our wedding and took his job very seriously. He walked down the aisle as slowly as we had asked him to do the previous night at the rehearsal and enjoyed wearing the tiny tuxedo. His gentle nature came through even then.
A few summers after I became a mother for the first time we ventured out west again. The shack where we had stayed previously had been replaced by a grand beach house where we brought our two boys, they were one and three. My oldest and he shared the same birthday, separated by eight years. My three year old had been enamored by him from the start. He played with my oldest non- stop and was curious about my youngest. I was reeling from the news that my one year old would be disabled and have special needs as he matured and I was very protective. I remember waking one morning after everyone else to find my nephew holding my one year old. I was alarmed until I saw the gleam in my nephew’s eyes. Proud to hold his new cousin, he was able to feed him a bottle as he held him.
That week also showed me his patience and kindness; at eleven years old he came to town to be our tour guide. He showed us the sites and the amusement park. My three year old begged to go on this toy train ride but was too frightened to go alone. My nephew volunteered to ride it with him. He gathered his already long legs in the small train car and faced my son while they did three laps around the flat sunny parking lot. I remember being impressed that he didn’t once complain and we rewarded him with a half hours’ worth of videos games at the arcade. He was grateful.
As he grew older his scratchy voice disappeared, but his interest in my boys never feigned. Always enthusiastic, patient and entertaining, he picked up where they had left off from the last time they saw each other. Of course, when my third son came to be, he was right there ready to play and be his instant favorite.
My third son looked forward to Thanksgiving almost as much as Christmas because it he could finally play with his favorite cousin again whom he hadn’t seen in months!
As an observer I admired the young man he was becoming. While we were visiting their home two summers ago, we had returned from a family outing to the aquarium, he came from another car and carried my wheelchair bound son with ease into the house. I didn’t ask him to, he just did it. I was moved by his thoughtfulness. He took a few more breaks from playtime than he had in years prior, but I understood. It’s hard to be in demand and popular with the little guys. He started relating more to his older cousins, seemed as though he wanted to be grown up. He was on his way.
Each time we’d see him I’d love to marvel at how tall he was getting. First as tall as his mom, then almost as tall as his dad, finally surpassing both parents and then some! His voice was deep and matured; thankfully, his eyes were still that of the boy I remember holding my one year old years ago.
The last time I saw him was Thanksgiving 2012. He was a handsome young man. He ran the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and ran faster than his mother, which is a big deal. I couldn’t get over how fast he’d grown up. I suppose when you only see someone every six months they seem to grow faster.
I have a video of him and the rest of the cousins playing Pit after the Thanksgiving feast. I’ve watched that video over and over in the last few days. Read countless articles about the legacy his amazing father left behind. Wished I hadn’t read all the details of their tragic deaths. Because it isn’t real yet, he’s not dead yet. I’m still expecting to see him at Thanksgiving.
He lives on in my memories and the family photos I searched thru before I started writing this.
The horrific ending to his life overshadows the beauty of who he was. Kind, gentle, smart as a whip, funny, strong and innocent. I will always keep his memory alive with my boys. I will remind them of who he was, talk with them about all the cool things he was able to do in his abbreviated life. I hope that my boys inherit his strength of character and his sense of self.
We will miss you sweet nephew. I pray you are watching from above with your beautiful blue eyes.