I received a call Saturday Morning from my favourite cousin, and though I call Marilyn my favourite cousin, I only see her or talk to her once in a while. So to get a call from her on a Saturday morning could mean only one thing.
And the one thing was, her husband Jim had died on Friday. He fell stepping off the porch step and hit his head on the sidewalk; he suffered a severe brain contusion and died in hospital several hours later. There are no good deaths for the quick, but the ‘good thing’ about Jim’s death, as Marilyn noted, was at least it was sudden and Jim would have known nothing of it. Not like Marlene’s long decline and painful demise from cancer.
I didn’t know Jim well even though I’d known him for all of their long and happy marriage. He was a gentle and generous man and lived an uncomplicated and worthwhile life. He was very active in the Scouting Movement and sang in a barbershop quartet. I will be attending his funeral, likely on Wednesday, to pay my respects to him, but more to give my support to Marilyn.
This post is not a eulogy to Jim. It is an homage to my favourite cousin, Marilyn.
I’m not sure how it is with you and your relatives but for me I’m largely detached. I have two dozen cousins from both sides – but I hardly know any of them, nor where they live or how to contact them. Except for three: Marilyn and her older brother Allen and sister Carol. The tie was an accident of geography actually – we lived next door to each other in Peterborough. My mother and Marilyn’s father were siblings. My grandfather Holden bought each of them a lot in the ‘South End’ of Peterborough – 288 and 282 McKellar Street; Dad designed the houses and he and Uncle Mel, acting as general contractors, supervised their construction. It was 1944.
Marilyn and I are the same age, both born in 1947, though she delights in reminding me annually that I am older than she is, even though only by 2 ½ months. Her brother Allen is three years older than I and though I played with him too, three years is a big gap when you’re only 7 or 8. I have many fond memories of our two families, and our childhood together, but two abiding memories are of Marilyn; they are among my earliest, one of which is a recovered memory from stories my mom told and from photographs. I’ve recorded both in my forthcoming book, ‘My Story, Mostly’, and here they are:
Being only 2 months apart in age, and living next door to each other, Marilyn and I spent a lot of time together, mostly in shared playpens and sandboxes. Who knows what escapades and private jokes we shared, long lost from infant memories…
…except for the famous family story of Marilyn and me sitting in a playpen on the front lawn at 288 McKellar and me feeding her an earthworm as spaghetti – to this day Marilyn doesn’t eat spaghetti, though it’s doubtful that these events are connected except apocryphally.
Another early memory involved terror (and maybe that’s a Darwinian survival thing): Kindergarten. And not just the expected fearful first day. Even though I had a companion – Marilyn – and I was still very unhappy. (Evidently Kindergarten was hard for Marlene too as her mother recorded in her Baby Book that Marlene was ‘quite nervous to go’.) Presumably my Mom (and Marilyn’s mom) walked us both up to Confederation Public School for our first day of Kindergarten but after that we walked ourselves: a very long walk for five-year-olds along McKellar Street to Park Street, and then three blocks to the school. We held hands for comfort, though I’m pretty sure Marilyn, two months younger than me, was more confident than I was, or so she seemed to me. Anyway, a few weeks into Kindergarten I had a meltdown: we used to sit in circle and I always sat next to Marilyn, until one day, the teacher separated us – moved me to another spot in the circle. I feel the fear still.
The Jordans moved from Peterborough to Ottawa in 1956 but we often returned to Peterborough to visit and the friendships picked up where they had left off. Still, less frequent contact took its toll. Even when the Jordans moved back to Peterborough eight years later contact was limited – we lived in the ‘North End’ while the Holdens remained in the ‘South End’. Inevitably distance and time resulted in the gradual segregation of the lives of the cousins, though the connections persisted. My relationship with Marilyn continued, stronger than what I had with Allen and Carol, though more through correspondence than visits.
As our lives diverged, contact was reduced to the banality of weddings and funerals, and the shallow wish that ‘we must try to get together more often’, and not just at funerals. It’s a common story I think, but one that brings with it some regret.
Marilyn was a lay minister and presided over my mother’s funeral in 2013. Three years later Marlene and I attended a celebration of my Aunt Vera’s 100th birthday. A year later Marlene died and Marilyn was there to assist at Marlene’s funeral. As a widower I somehow found myself wanting to visit Peterborough more often and would stop in and visit with Marilyn and Jim.
I know how it is to lose a spouse of fifty years, and now my dear cousin Marilyn will have to find the way onward alone. She has two daughters who will support her, but they have their own lives now and live away from Peterborough. Sadly, and ironic, Marilyn has lived her entire life in Peterborough and for much of her adult life within half a dozen houses from the family home on McKellar Street; she was a constant companion and later caregiver to her mum. Now, none of her family live in Peterborough. With death comes so many changes; some of life’s greatest challenges seem to come near the end of our lives, when we may have ebbing confidence and capacity to bear them. I hope my favourite cousin will have the confidence to move on as she had in Kindergarten.
As for me, I must find a way to stay connected with Marilyn in this lonely time for us both. I’ll make better use of video calls with her; I’ll stop by more often as I pass through Peterborough on my way to and from Markham. We’ll pop out for lunch at a local restaurant. Perhaps I can persuade her to share a bowl of spaghetti.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada
© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing
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