A cousin: Lost and then found
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My cousin’s family was from New York, as were mine. His father was my mother’s brother.
They were all born in the Bronx and grew up there. As far back as I can remember both families spent most holidays together at our
house in the Hunt’s Point section of the Bronx.
These were the years before my sister or
my cousin’s brother was born.
I was four years older than my cousin. We played kid games
together on the streets of Hunt’s Point. Back then Hunt’s Point was a melting pot of races and backgrounds. It was a rough and tough
place. We kids were sure that our neighbors, the Corso family, were Mafia. I was scared to death of Sonny Corso. I was seven years
old. Sonny was eight. He bullied me, until one day I ran home crying. My dad put his arm around me and asked what had happened. Tearfully,
I told him that Sonny Corso had hit me on my head. He quieted my young sobs and said, “Son, you have to go out there and face him,
or he’s going to bully you forever.”
My dad gave me a gentle shove out the door and said,
“Go, you can do it.”
Sonny and his friends were playing stick ball in the street in front
of our house. With tears still wet on my cheeks I ran towards Sonny and took a wild swing and him in the chest. He went down and started
to cry. I stood over him for a few seconds, admiring my newly found bravado. Then I ran back into the safety of my house. Sonny Corso,
from that time on, never bothered me. In fact, he would cross the street to avoid running in to me. My dad was right.
My cousin’s mother and father were young and attractive. My uncle was a good looking, masculine, charming guy. My aunt was attractive
and personable. I remember my uncle getting drafted and serving in the Army. That would have been near the end of World War II.
I heard my mother and father discussing my aunt. They talked about the “shame of it all.” The shame was that my young cousin had rickets
and they said it was because my aunt spent all of her time, and my young cousin’s, inside, playing cards with friends. “The boy needs
sunshine,” they said.
As a seven year old I got along well with my cousin’s mother and
father. I think they liked me because I took their young son off their hands – I played with him.
From listening to my mother and father talk about my aunt and uncle I got the impression that they didn’t think they were the most
interested of parents, after all, the kid got rickets!
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays were all celebrated at our house
in the Bronx.
My cousin and I played together as our parents had their dinners, talked
and played cards.
The years flew by. I was twelve, my cousin was eight.
My mother, father, grandmother and I said goodbye to lifelong friends and family and drove across the country to our new home in California.
We left my cousin, his mother and father and all the others back in the Bronx. My dad had left his job, working on the subways of
New York City. We were going to find our new fortunes in California.
A few years later
my uncle, aunt and my cousin left the Bronx and joined us in California. Things continued there as they were in the Bronx. My uncle
and aunt would spend the holidays with us, only now they would leave my cousin to stay with us for days at a time. We played together
every day. My cousin had become as close to me as a brother. My friends were his friends. My mother and father became his surrogate
More years flew by.
My cousin and I
were teenagers. My cousin gained a brother. I gained a sister. My cousin and I still played together. Then his mother and father got
a divorce. His father re-married. His father and step mother were busy with their new lives together. His mother, shocked and angry
with the divorce, fell into a new life style. Her children reminded her of the anger and grief she felt from the divorce.
My cousin and I were growing apart, not of our own doing, but because his parents were no longer together. His new step mother wanted
her husband to herself. Family was becoming just a word.
My mother died in 1961. Her death
shattered my life, my father’s life and my grandmother’s. My cousin came to the funeral and wept along with the rest of us. It was
the first death in the family.
That was the last time I saw my cousin for forty seven years.
Not a word, nor a letter, or a phone call. We each went our separate way. My father died, as did my grandmother. His father, mother
and stepmother died . Those childhood days in the Bronx were fading memories.
began a career as an engineer on secret government projects in northern California. Then as a test engineer for a firm in Kansas.
Then to New York as a product manager of a world wide firm. Then to Pennsylvania, working on governmental projects. Returning to southern
California he worked for an executive search company, a computer memory manufacturer and more recently operating a successful advertising
During those same years I had left California and published newspapers and magazines
in Hawaii, Oregon, New Jersey and Wisconsin, finally returning to southern California.
Once or twice a year I would conduct a search for my cousin’s name on the computer with no luck. Every once in a while I would recall
those days we shared in New York and then California. We were so close. Then, suddenly, nothing.
Almost half a century passed. Then, just as sudden – an e-mail message came from my cousin. He has been living up the road, an hour
away, for decades. We spoke on the phone and agreed to get together. We met at a restaurant in Del Mar, California. Our wives joined
We examined the other’s face, looking for that child we knew nearly five decades before.
We shook hands, hugged and patted each other’s backs and somehow returned to those easy days of almost a half century before. We talked
for almost three hours, mostly about our memories of those days when we played together on the streets of New York and California.
We spoke of our parents and what their deaths meant to us. He told me about how important my parents were to him. He spoke of his
younger brother. I told him about my younger sister. We remembered how close we were – almost like brothers.
A few weeks ago we got together again. The years peeled away. Those days long ago- they somehow seemed more important than all the
years since. Those days playing in the streets formed us. They were the foundation of who we were to become.
Now, when I see my cousin, after all the years that have passed, I get the feeling that we would both like to be back on those streets,
playing and talking and learning about life.
Now we sit, senior citizens, summoning feelings
and thoughts of those days long ago, playing and growing together.
Now we sit, two score
and seven years later, with special feelings in our hearts as we say, “Remember when….”