Cousin Maria, This One’s for You!

Maria, on March 31st I wrote a little piece about a young boy’s night out with his dad and granddad gigging frogs.  The next day, April Fools Day, you responded with: “Enjoyed your story Jim.  Brought back memories of the pond on my grandparent’s Ohio farm, although the only thing we caught there were the leaches that would attach themselves to our legs and feet while we were in the water.  Not a very fond memory.  Maria”

I was, upon reading that, an April fool, as I often am.  You see, the first thing I thought, with excitement, was: Cousin Maria! Wow! After all these years!  And then I began to think: no, couldn’t be.  How in the world would Cousin Maria chance upon our little blog?  I’d win the Powerball first, no way that could happen.  Besides, this Maria talks about visiting her grandparents’ pond in Ohio and our grandfather died long before either of us was even born!  No, it’s some other Maria.  And, yes, a little strange that this Maria too has an Ohio connection, but that’s still not so strange as my cousin somehow stumbling upon our blog …

See what an April fool I am?  Number One: never occurred to me that, if I have had two sets of grandparents, so two grandfathers, one who died way too young but another who lived long enough to hang out with me some, you too would have had two sets of grandparents, sharing the same grandfather who died way too young but also having a second one who could well have had a pond in Ohio full of leeches hungry for your feet.  Number Two: never occurred to me that Jill instigated this blog, the same Jill who had not long before visited you in Arizona, where and when she could easily have (as indeed was the case) recruited you as an observer of our impending blog.  Of course Jill would do that!  That’s precisely what Jill would do!  Of course I’d overlook that!  That’s precisely what I would do!

So, wavering between believing you were Cousin Maria and believing you were some other Maria with grandparents in Ohio, I took a coward’s course of action and responded to your response in a way which tried to play to both possibilities.  So, now you know that your long-lost Cousin Jim can be the fool and play the coward.

It’s all worth it, though, because now I can return to that initial excitement at having contact with you again, even if only through a blog.

We never did have much contact, from the start.  You guys were up in Fort Wayne when we were in Dayton, not too far apart but not too close either.  I remember very occasional visits when we were young.  Then you guys moved out to Arizona and we moved east and then south and the only contact we Paukert kids had was hearing about you through Mom.

Our paths crossed very briefly in 1983 or 1984, not sure which.  I had come back from Europe with Dita at my side and not a dollar in my pocket.  I needed a job.  A school in northeastern Tennessee needed a teacher.  Mom drove Dita and me up there so I could try to get that job (didn’t happen) and then we continued on to Ohio to visit Grandma Markey.  It was the first and last time Dita ever was with Grandma, also the last time for me.  We arrived in West Alec just as you were departing from a visit with Grandma.  It was as if our paths crossed halfway up (or down) the dark, creaky stairway leading to Grandma’s store-top apartment.  We met, chatted, then you returned to Arizona while we spent a couple days with Grandma.  

We found Grandma in a really good mood because she had enjoyed your visit so much.  A couple things we all know about Grandma: she talked more constantly than constantly and, while she talked, without ever really meaning to be negative and critical, she was almost always negative and critical.  Unless she was eating strawberry pie, or unless you had just visited her.  That made me think you maybe were her favorite grandchild.

So, get ready for some classic Grandma Markey!  After you left, Grandma talked and talked about how wonderful your visit had been and how nice Charles is and how sweet you are.  And then she added: “I just don’t know why she has all that hair in her face!”  Then came the patented Grandma Markey wincing smile.

So that was the last time our paths crossed until this blog.  I’m very glad they’ve recrossed.

Maybe some day before too, too long Dita and I can get out to see you in Arizona, a part of the world Dita has long wanted to see.  Years ago, not long after college, I spent some time in So Cal with college friends, twin brothers.  They had a sister living in Flagstaff who we visited and we went from Flagstaff up to the Grand Canyon, intending to hike to the bottom and back up (of course).  We took a bus from Flagstaff to the South Rim and, on that bus, met an Australian fellow and two Danish women.  All three wanted to join us on our little adventure so the next day the six of us set off early morning down the Bright Angel Trail.  It was one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done.  The Aussie got a kick out of taking any and every opportunity to sneak out to the edge of a cliff and yell over to the other side of the canyon: “Hello Bruce (sounding more like ‘Brew-is’)!  Hello Sheila (sounding more like ‘Shaee-lar’)!” for the joy of hearing his cry bounce back at him from various faces of the canyon.  Halfway down the canyon a thunderstorm swept in, gushing rain so hard that a mini-rockslide forced us to cower under a slight overhang, stones falling at our feet then bouncing down the canyon.  My kind of beauty!  The storm moved on so we moved on and reached the bottom, camping that night on a sandbar by the river, no rain and no bugs so no need for a tent.  The next day, early before heat, we headed back up, each carrying a gallon of water in obeisance to park recommendations.  Halfway back up we met a group of kids spending the summer working at hotels on the rim, taking a day-off-duty hike and carelessly carrying no water.  The day was very hot and these kids were nearly ill with thirst, so we shared our water with them, more than we could afford to share.  By the final mile of the hike up we ourselves were out of water and I was feeling to worse for it.  Before we reached the rim, my body was weak and aching and my mind was hallucinating enough to freak me a bit.  We reached the top, though and the Aussie shouted a last goodbye to his friends Bruce and Sheila.

I want Dita to do this hike!  My poor, old legs wouldn’t get me down the canyon, let alone back up again, so I’ll need to rent a mule.  After the canyon, we could visit the Navajo and Hopi, then head down to Phoenix for pizza.  I’ve read that Pizzaria Bianco bakes the best pizza in America.  Come eat pizza with us, ok?  Even if you might still have all that hair in your face!  

4 thoughts on “Cousin Maria, This One’s for You!

  1. You have the most incredible memory, or the most incredible imagination, or both. In any case, I’m envious. Also, I’m here to report that as of last February, Maria still had beautiful hair, but it was not in her face. Cousin Jim, though, was another matter. [Kidding, of course. The former Phoenix cop is as clean-cut as ever.]

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  2. Enjoyed this blog Jim, as I have enjoyed all of your musings. I apologize for being vague and assuming you knew who it was. But then if I had provided too much information, you would not have had as much material for this post. I think it was 1983 when we saw you and Dita in West Alec. That was the last time we saw Grandma also and I wish we could have seen her more often. I think she was really lonely at the top of those creaky stairs. I did stay in contact with her more than my siblings did once we moved out West, writing to her frequently and sending her cookies at the holidays. I really think she loved all of her grandchildren equally. That’s funny she mentioned my hair. Ohio weather did have a way of doubling it’s volume without any effort on my part.

    It would be great if we could all get together one of these days and eat pizza and maybe some Mexican food? I’ve hiked the Bright Angel trail 3 times but would probably need to get in shape if I had any hope of climbing out of there in the same day. I haven’t done it since 1995. I think we’d be up for the challenge just not in the summertime!

    We are currently drawing up plans to build a house in Sedona hopefully next year (?). Sedona would be a great staging place from which to explore the surrounding areas of northern Arizona. But since we are both still working, we’ll have to see how that plan goes. No Pizzaria Bianco up there, but plenty of nice pizza eating weather down here in the valley during the winter months.

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