It was 1966 and he was home on leave for Thanksgiving. My cousin, Danny and my Grandma Smith hold his fresh catch from her farm pond. He’d just completed boot camp and was ready to serve on the USS Cacapon docked in Long Beach, California. I was an eleven-year-old kid looking up to my twenty-two-year old cousin. Now, fifty-one-years later, I have a second chance to know him.
We meet every year on Veteran’s Day at Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County –within five miles of where our Grandma Smith had lived. This tradition started years ago after we discovered our common interest in hiking. Prior to that, I’d only spent time with him when he or his family would come by our home or we were at a gathering at Grandma Smith’s. I liked his sense of humor and always found him easy to talk with– especially for a guy. Must have been because he was a middle child, too, with an older and younger sister, like me.
Now we take the Campbell Loop trail that’ll be five miles into the hardwood forest. The path follows a stream that flows into the Cape Fear River. Over the years we’ve developed a familiar pattern of steady walking with stops to admire the natural wonder around us: light through the leaves, the way the water has carved the rock, fallen trees like sculpture over the stream. Along the way, we talk everything from news of our families, to politics, to issues of faith.
Sometimes we go back to memories of our teenage years. I love hearing his stories about a girl he liked, the male perspective I’d missed by not having brothers. Danny listens to my account of boys I chased that lived just down the road from Raven Rock in the Boone Trail community. I wish he’d been around then to give me advice.
Danny’s turn to lead
We go at a comfortable pace, walking through our topics. At the end of our hike, I’m rewarded by Danny cooking lunch for me over his hibachi. He’d insisted on this and asked that I just bring carrots. He’d brought fillet mignon, shrimp, tossed salad, and cold adult beverages.
We sit and wait for the coals to burn down. I can see Grandma Smith in the way he listens, then thoughtfully responds. Danny’s blue-gray eyes and profile remind me of her. I’ve been fortunate to be able to get to know him in adulthood as I could not when I was a child. It’s given me a deeper knowledge of my family and of myself.
I remember several years ago when I was planning my solo journey. There was another cousin I wanted to know better. I’d seen from spending time with Danny how it had enriched our lives. I planned my trip to Michigan by way of Toledo and visited my cousin, Shirley. (see post– Distant Cousins). Like my time with Danny, I made new discoveries that helped me to know her, and myself, better.
I’m hungry after our long walk and the grilled shrimp and steak are the perfect meal. It’s nice to feel taken care of by my older cousin, like the big brother that I’d always wanted.
When we pack up to leave, the sun is slanting it’s golden afternoon light on the trees. I have a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, not just from our delicious lunch but from the day that has been well- spent. Once again we’ve deepened our bond that has carried us through the years and will into the future. I’m grateful that I’ve had this second chance to know him.
Me and Danny on Veteran’s Day Hike
See more photos at my Author Facebook page– Saved by Sedona
What about you?
Have you had someone that you’ve been able to get to know more fully at a later time in your life?
How has that experience changed you?