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Seeing life through my cousin’s eyes

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I know that “living off the beaten path” means that people have to really want to see us to make the effort to find us. So it is with my family, most of whom are still in the Detroit area, or some other big city sprinkled south and east across the Rust Belt. As you might expect, I was surprised to receive a text from my cousin, Art, from Pennsylvania, that he’d worked me into his travel itinerary. He’d see me “soon” for an overnight stay, en route to Oregon riding his Ducati Multistrada 1200 motorcycle.

It had been twenty years since I’d seen him. That was the last time he’d come breezing in. This time Art was riding with Joan, his “girlfriend” of seven years. This would be our first meeting. Having just retired, they were on an adventure. Still wondering what “soon” meant, three days later we were greeting them in the driveway. Once their gloves and helmets were off, and hugs and introductions exchanged all around, our visit officially began.

As a kid, Art was my wild and crazy cousin, always pushing the limits. He was a racer, first of bicycles, then dirt bikes, stock cars, and now his most recent racing endeavor, fast foreign cars. With this news, I felt a momentary reticence, like the sensation I get when I first step onto a moving escalator. Maybe I should have braced myself for this. Art could be at full-throttle. And that meant holding on tight!

My cousin was always the proverbial “gear head”. If given the opportunity, anything you needed to know, wanted to know (or even didn’t) about anything metal, mechanical, or man-made, Art would tell you, and in much more detail than you would think possible.

Art announced he had retired from his day job delivering fuel oil. He now spent a lot of his time traveling the racing circuit “announcing”. He was the guy behind the microphone giving the “blow-by-blow” for the fans at the track, or listening on the radio. He’s a talker who can bring the unseen to life, adding drama to every curve, straight-away, and secretly longed for pile-up. He’s a word master and loves to hear himself entertaining anyone who will listen. In the course of our visit, I would be his new audience. ( In this visit, I got more information about Porsches and Ducatis than I could ever absorb, along with some of the funniest dirty jokes I’d ever heard. )

After the first night, I realized what a lucky guy Art was to have found Joan, a sweet, smart, and subdued person who, in her adeptly gentle fashion, acted as the governor on his compulsive story-telling. I loved her! When they were in no hurry to leave after the planned one-night stay, I really was happy.

Visitors are rare, especially folks who loved and can share great memories about our moms, two Greek sisters who were always there for each other. They were always there for us, too, and as kid cousins, we were close enough to feel like “sibs.” As a bonus to all these warm vibes, I got to learn exactly what “turbo-charged” meant, and all the advantages it afforded. How lucky could I get. (Mustn’t forget, we grew up in the Motor City.)

That night we were hit with a whopping thunderstorm. At 3 a.m., with the first crack of thunder, I was up, unplugging everything electronic. Out of the guest room came Art, in his underwear, his smart phone in hand. He was totally enthralled by the amount of electricity flashing across the sky. In his most passionate style, he cried, “I’ve never seen lightening like this in my life! I’ve gotta get this on video!” I thought to myself, “Art, where have you been?” And then it occurred to me, “Pittsburgh! His night skies are not like our night skies.”

He plastered his video phone against the picture window while hailing the magnificent light show. I thought to myself, “Wow, at 65, he’s still like a little kid.”

Satisfied with his recording, he brought it to me, “Look at this! Unbelievable! And listen to that continuous thunder. It just goes on and on!” Yes, this storm was amazing. But to see him exclaiming like this in sheer wonder and delight, wow, that amazed me.

The next morning, every one at the breakfast table was presented with his award-worthy video of the thunderstorm, “just in case they’d slept through it.”

After enjoying homegrown eggs, hash browns and home-roasted java, Art announced it was time to “pack it up”, with hope of reaching North Dakota by dark. We poured over the map, identifying routes unsuitable for two wheel travel, and those scenic byways too beautiful to miss. With routes programmed into their smartphones, they were ready to go. I cleared dishes as they collected their gear, dreading the farewells that I knew would follow our final photo shoot.

Art entered the kitchen, announcing their departure, but first, his latest discovery. With his signature enthusiasm, he exclaimed, “Guess what I just figured out? If ya walk across your gravel driveway, and then across your grass, by the time ya get to your door, your shoes are completely clean” OMG! It was happening again. Art’s irrepressible joy and delight about something so small, insignificant by most people’s standards,! This was his morning thrill. And part of that joy was sharing it with me. I got it and it was amazing! In that moment, we were both “turbo-charged” — just on life itself. ’Til we meet again, dear cuz. Godspeed and safe journeys.

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