Same Time Next Year

Last Thursday I was honored, once again, to spend the better part of a cold autumn day with my cousin, Danny. I always wanted an older brother, and he’s the closest to one I’ve known. Growing up, I didn’t know him well because he’s eleven years older than me. But since we started the tradition of yearly hikes, and sometimes getting together in-between, the age gap has been bridged by our common interests and love for deep conversation and appreciation of being in nature. I first wrote about it in the post Second Chance to Know You, because I saw that ‘second chance’ as a gift. This is how I introduced those hikes in that post:

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.

Raven Rock Hike November 2022

Over the years, we’ve hiked some of the same trails–like the Campbell Loop, spending between two and three hours hiking before we head back to the parking area for our tailgate lunch. What I like about hiking with Danny, is that while we are intentional about completing the chosen trail, we are more focused on being in the moment. We stop to look at the unusual bend in the limb of a tree, or to listen to the babble of a brook, while seeing the morning light slanting in on the golden leaves. He often stoops down to pick up a careless piece of trash along the trail– always one concerned about the environment. We might stop mid-way on a footbridge if we’ve reached a critical point in a conversation. He reminds me of Grandma Smith in his thoughtful manner, taking his time to answer because there is a portion of his response that needs more consideration. He listens to my stories, to the ups and downs of my life– and he remembers long after what I’ve said, the emotion conveyed. While these are the patterns of every year, the older I become, the more I appreciate one who listens, one who remembers.

We talk about many topics, from family to faith to politics and our children. He’s been a great sounding board when I was perplexed by the challenges of dating at this point in life after being married for so long. For years we shared our personal experiences of dealing with the destruction of dementia; his wife, Jane had an early onset of the illness and I dealt with losing my mother. We were able to empathize with watching the slow death of one you love, with feelings that you could never do enough–somehow you should have been more.

Many times while we’re hiking we meet other veterans along the path. I’ve always admired how Danny and the fellow veteran so quickly connected around their experiences. I liked listening to them talk about where they were stationed and in what roles they served. Last week there were few people at the park because it didn’t fall on Veterans’ Day and, maybe, because it was cold. But what Danny shared this year was about an amazing relationship he’s formed with a fellow Navy veteran who lives within thirty minutes in the Triad of North Carolina.

Danny–who actually goes by “J.D.” (he changed to before he entered the Navy but I can’t call him that) met J.C. Taylor who served on the same tanker fuel ship the USS Cacapon twenty years before. When Danny served during the Vietnam War, the ship was based out of Long Beach, California and they fueled ships off the coast of Vietnam. He’s told me stories of almost being washed overboard during a typhoon and the near-fires on that floating bomb. His friendship with J.C. has grown over time as they’ve had regular visits and shared as only soldiers who know the same experiences, on the same ship, in the same area of the world can.

Last Thursday, when we stopped to look out over a wide bend in the creek, we had been talking about the upcoming holidays.

“You know, I was away from home for four Christmases,” he said, then paused. “I remember seeing another ship with Christmas lights and it occurring to me that it was Christmas back home–but just another day as a sailor.”

The point had been that we often build those days up, but yet, all days are really the same; all are precious.

Later he smiled and recalled more of that holiday on the USS Cacapon.

“The Navy really fed us well,” he said. “I tasted my first lobster tails that Christmas Day.”

We finished our hike and pulled out the camping chairs and cooler from his van. One of the biggest treats for me every year on our Raven Rock hike is that Danny brings lunch. This year it was beef brisket and boiled potatoes kept warm in a thermos–the perfect comfort food as the sun was sinking lower in the sky and the temperature was dropping. While we ate, he handed me his phone to watch a special Veterans’ Day feature from a Triad News Station. Danny had contacted them to tell about J.C.– one of the few remaining WW II veterans. It was a way they could record “living history” while there was still time.

I was so touched by the segment that featured my cousin and the incredible friendship he’d formed with this fellow veteran–from the same ship. If I’d seen the special and not known Danny, I’d have thought, “That’s an honorable man. What a special bond he’s formed with this older soldier.”

But what I know, is that Danny has been honorable all his life. I’m so glad that he has taken the time and effort to connect with J.C. and to persist in the efforts to meet with him and to have the television station feature their service and their friendship. I’m thankful that the reporter, Brad Jones spent hours with Danny and J.C. to produce their portion that really highlights the most important aspects of their service. Their segment is at the first part of this link–which I hope you’ll view so you’ll see and hear the cousin I hike with–as well as meet J.C. who has come to mean a lot to Danny.

https://myfox8.com/fox8-special-presentation/watch-the-fox8-veterans-voices-special/

I don’t know what new discoveries Danny and I will share on our next hike. While some parts of this yearly ritual are the same–the place, the time of year, the hiking then eating the food he’s prepared– we never know what new things will occur in our lives, what portions of the conversation will need further consideration before we respond.

Danny used to visit Mama at Parkview on the days I came to visit. She was very fond of her nephew and always brightened when he entered her room. In earlier years, he’d always loved sitting at her kitchen table and eating whatever “Aunt Mary” had cooking on the stove. Thinking of her at that table, I remember how she’d say the blessing before we’d eat a meal with her, thanking God for the food and then she’d say of the family around the table, “These are Precious Times.”

Now, I look back on Thursday, on all the other Veterans’ Day hikes and think “These are Precious Times.”

Danny with Grandma Smith while on leave from USS Cacapon November 1966

12 thoughts on “Same Time Next Year

  1. Connie, I so enjoyed this sweet hiking and Veteran’s Day connection between your cousin, JD, and you. It was nice to hear about how he built up his friendship over the years with J.C. and kept in touch with him not always an easy thing to do. Also, of their time together in the military on the ship serving their Country.
    Thank you JD and JC for your service. It will not be forgotten. Keep on handing down y’all’s stories as the best way of keeping it all alive.
    Thanks Connie. Love, Dana

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    • Hi Dana,
      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your response. I’ll pass your note of thanks and desire to hear more stories to J.D. and J.C.–I’m sure they’ll appreciate that they have a fan in Texas!!
      Best to you,
      Connie

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    • Thanks so much, MJ.
      It is a gift and certainly one I didn’t anticipate—as are all the best gifts! Our talks have opened my eyes to so many things. He’s shared knowledge of our family history that took place before I was born. He’s easy for me to ask my questions and get his ‘male perspective’ which I wouldn’t be able to do with a lot of men.
      Best to you, MJ for a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that you take time to read and respond to my posts. I haven’t been good or faithful about doing this for others–which is a lack on my part.
      Connie

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  2. Really enjoyed your post as usual. Danny really prepares a gourmet meal for hiking. I know Danny must have some family history to share. Happy TG

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • Thanks, Older Sister,
      Glad you enjoyed reading about this guy that you know, too. He has told me things about family events that happened before I was born.
      Hope y’all have a great Thanksgiving in the hills!
      Connie

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  3. A late read brings a late response. This is a great piece to reflect the greatness of our Vets and what they really mean to our great nation. With me, I truly honor those who are no longer with us. I attend events that honor those who served, yet I attend to honor those who could not be present. The news piece on Danny and JC is great. I find that the NC news people seem to reach deep into their assignments with a deeper commitment to getting the story right. The best part of this piece is the photo of you and Danny. There seems to be a greater purpose to the hike. Love and Blessing to you. John,

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    • Hi John,
      Thanks so much for reading and responding–doesn’t matter that it’s late!!
      I think I appreciate our Vets more as I grow older. I know I haven’t done enough to honor them.
      I think the reporter did a great job. Interesting that from your TX perspective our NC news people dig more deeply.
      I always come away with more–with feeling I’ve been given a true gift–which may be part of that “greater purpose” of the hike–that connection I renew with my cousin every time we put on our hiking boots.
      Best to you, John.
      Connie

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Connie. I hope and I’m pretty sure you had a nice Thanksgiving. I’ve been reading your journals lately and as always, if I just take the time to read them, I enjoy them. As we are classmates and friends of many of the same people, I just need to take a little time to incorporate your story and somehow include old friends and family as I read along. I wish you a very Merry Christmas now because it will have come and gone before we know it. And YES, my wife had lots of Guiness & Beef in Ireland and I hope Donna enjoyed your version of it. Talk to you soon. Mike

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    • Hey Mike,
      Good to hear from you. Yes–time is passing so quickly that it almost makes me dizzy! Another year–almost over, and then how can it be 2023?
      Yes, my Guiness & Beef turned out great for Donna and I made it last week for my family. It was a hit with the Irish Soda Bread. Glad your wife enjoyed it as well.
      And speaking of 2023, that means we’re due a 50th High School Reunion. What?!! How can we be that old!! Ha!
      Hope you’ll be posting some of your gorgeous morning pics with some Indiana snow.
      Best to you for the holidays,
      Connie

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