My first cousin died a few weeks ago. He was 79 years old. As death goes, his was quiet. Couple of years ago we saw each other for the first time in decades, at a family reunion. Since then he’s intruded in my thoughts at odd times. I’ll remember how he used to hold his Chesterfield when we sneaked out to have a smoke. Somehow he’s come to life through his death. This seems to be a new way to perceive the inevitability of life and death. The thing is, we were closer than just cousins.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

There were three of us, born within six weeks of each other, offspring of my father, his brother and his sister. We lived in a middle class neighborhood in which the men trudged off to work every morning to their jobs, black lunchboxes in hand. So we lived in spacious apartments on blocks of three-story, six flats that made it seem we were like a big family, the three of us cousins. After watching the newest version of “The Three Musketeers” with Gene Kelly at the cinema we were the Three Cousins, spending those long days of summer riding our bicycles from one adventure to another.

Ron was the oldest by 14 days. I was the next born and Mike was born in early October. Ron was in such a hurry to grow up that he may have missed out on childhood. His mother would urge him to go play outside but he preferred card games like poker, played for matchsticks. He started smoking at about 14 years old, which is about when we began hanging out at the local bowling alley, setting pins in that dark corner at the end of the alley, timing the lifting of the legs so they wouldn’t get hit by the thundering bowling ball. He was first to have a serious girlfriend, first to get married, first to get divorced. He seemed so content to do what was expected from the real adults. Not a hint of subversion.

Once we got to high school, our identities as the swashbuckling Three Musketeers fit us too tightly so we made new friends. Ron discovered girls, Mike turned out to be exceptionally smart and I became friends with another boy named Ron. This Ron was different than anyone else in the eighth grade I knew. On cold days his mother didn’t make him wear a hat. The other thing was he and his mother called each other “honey.”

We cousins still had a good time when we got together as family during holidays, but instead of the Three Musketeers, we were more the Three Stooges. Cousin Ron always seemed to be in a “serious” relationship, Cousin Mike was always on the verge of honor roll grades and I don’t remember anything of high school.

So it has surprised me how much there is to remember. The natural order of things suggests that those who are born first die first. Children should outlive their parents. So Ron followed the rules, lifted his feet just when the bowling ball hit the pins.

I guess it’s my turn next.

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