Friday, July 26, 2013

one is never enough: odd/ode to cousins (Part 2)

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"We've had cloning in the South for years. It's called cousins." - Robin Williams
I have lots of cousins. I have tall cousins and short cousins, straight cousins and gay cousins, preacher cousins and skeptic cousins, musician cousins and cousins who can't carry a tune, white cousins and tan cousins and really dark cousins. I even have cousins who share my exact genetic code, because my mother and their father were siblings and my father and their mother were siblings. Not exactly clones, but close. Oddly, we look nothing alike. 
I love all my cousins. But there are four cousins who are more like siblings to my brother and me. We are the children of the Jackson Girls. And we are inseparable.

First came Wayne, a hilarious firebrand who went from AC/DC to DC Talk, from leading the Cammo Crew to leading worship, from eating only macaroni & cheese and fried chicken to eating Chinese food in China, from single guy to happily married dude and proud daddy.
Dawn came next. She went from a prissy little toddler wearing Holly Hobby dresses to a pigtailed tomboy in dirty jeans. Except when she was at dance class. Dawn loved to dance and was really good at it. I remember going to her ballet and tap recitals, helping her with makeup and costumes, enjoying how happy she looked as she moved across the stage. She was beautiful. She still is.
A good thing about a girl cousin is having sleepovers and talking about boys and sharing all those things you don’t want to talk about with your parents. You can fix each other’s hair, share clothes and girly stuff, crack each other up with totally inappropriate jokes (the movie title “Bodacious Tatas” still makes us giggle), and mess with each other in ways only sisters can do.

I have always talked in my sleep. Apparently Dawn used to take advantage of this when I was a teenager and have wacky two-sided conversations with me while I was asleep. To this day I wonder what I told her.  She ain’t telling.

I always knew Dawn would end up doing something interesting, something off the beaten path from the rest of the family. She loved dance but she also loved sports as much as any boy. She majored in sports medicine during college and volunteered with the local baseball and hockey teams. She spent a while doing PR for various hockey teams in Atlanta and Boston, but eventually found her purpose in chiropractic.  Our family went from “Chiropractors are quacks!” to “OMG, we have a doctor in the family!” right quick.

Watching Dawn go through the rigors of school (again) and listening to her tell me about her studies gave me a new appreciation for the training Chiropractors receive. She even spent one whole year dissecting a human cadaver. I don’t remember what she named him, but I think she had conversations with him, too. Most of which probably started, “Thanks so much for offering your body to science so I could learn from you.” Humbling. Never one to sit still for long, she headed off on a mission trip to Bali right after graduation to adjust mothers, newborns, and villagers at a midwifery center.  Now she has her own practice in Charleston doing what she loves to do. She always had a healing touch. She still does.

Brandon and Jason were a surprise addition to our little Jackson pack of four. Especially Jason. When Aunt Shirley got pregnant again, we were excited to add a new baby boy to the mix. But a month before she was due, we all got a shock. The reason she was getting so big was that there was not one but TWO boys gestating in that little woman! Apparently Brandon was sprawled out all over the womb during the sonogram, while Jason was minding his own business up in the corner, probably making a deal or two as he’s been known to do.

In less than a month we had to double up on the number of cribs, strollers, car seats, diapers and baby clothes. A lot of women would despair, but for my aunt it was double the joy. In typical Jackson fashion, all the sisters came together to make it happen. In typical Jackson fashion, we were all at the hospital when they were born. And in typical dramatic fashion, Ray – then a sophomore in high school – ran through the halls of the hospital shouting “I have two boys! I have two boys!” Because, really, they belonged to all of us.

To have gestated together, those two boys couldn’t be more different. Brandon had curly blond hair. Jason’s blond locks were straight as a board. Brandon was straight forward and headstrong, while Jason was all wire and wile. Brandon’s head was so big he had to wear an adult football helmet as a kid, while Jason couldn’t keep his pants up with a belt (not that he tried very hard).   Brandon’s idea of playing “dress up” was to wear a cowboy hat or carry an umbrella a la Winnie the Pooh (“Tut tut, looks like rain!”) while Jason let us dress him up in full drag. Brandon hugs me like a big ol’ bear. Jason and I air kiss and say “Dahling.” Both of them crack us up with their shenanigans, play sport like ninjas, have taken us to the ER on occasion, and bring us to tears with their heartfelt words of love.

I just knew that with his brawn and brains, Brandon was going to be a football star and/or a nuclear physicist, and with his strong work ethic and wiley ways Jason was going to start his own lawn care franchise and/or be the biggest bookie on the East coast. But as usual, the boys like to keep us on our toes with surprises.

Today Brandon is our bearded resident culinary expert and a Team Leader at Whole Foods who goes by the moniker “Big Country. ” Jason is a sergeant in the United States Army, a war veteran whose commanding officer calls him “Cupcake”, and a proud dad of three. Oh, Brandon still has a wicked good arm and Jason can still trick the pants off you, but they prove that sometimes the unexpected gifts are the best ones of all.

There is a move afoot to encourage small families and single kids. Who needs all the stress and expense of raising all those kids, right? Siblings and cousins don’t really add any value to life, right? We’re all much better off keeping life nice and neat and small, right?

Wrong! I can’t imagine what life would be like without my extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins of varying degrees, and of course my sibling/cousins. Sure, sometimes life gets messy with all these people hanging around and knowing your business. But, I also know that no matter how busy or messy life becomes, or even how big my britches get, there are at least five other people on this planet who can see right through to my back collar button. 

They’ve known me from the beginning, and have shared family and memories and trials and delights. They know how and when to pick me up off the ground, and when to lay down beside me with a comforting arm and maybe a pillow. They can bring me back to Earth when I need grounding, and can send me spinning into the heavens with a laugh, a touch, a prayer.  
I know they ALWAYS have my back. And thanks to them, I know I’ll never be alone. If I ever lose my memory, I know they’ll let me hold on to theirs for awhile.

I’m sure it will seem mighty familiar. 

(Want to see the beginning? Read Part 1)

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