League Of Cousins

#20 of the 30 day challenge to blog–(I realized i posted this elsewhere…but not here…)

By David Leo Schultz

 

The same green antique sofa chair that would be pressed up against the wall, hugging the blue curtains, and resting right next to the front door in my grandma’s house on 8717 Ivanhoe Street is where I could normally be found every Christmas Eve evening waiting in anticipation for my extended family, especially my cousins to arrive. It was the same green chair that I would wait, sometimes hopelessly for Dad to pull in with his white Toyota Celica …and when I think of that memory, and especially that green chair, I get a great sense of sadness in the pit of my stomach…but it’s funny how an object that can bring you so much grief can also bring yo so much joy. Because when I think of that same green chair, on Christmas Eve evenings…I can’t help but be filled with joyous anticipation and be transported back to memories filled with laughter, card playing, presents, my Grandma’s Christmas sweaters, and especially my cousins.

There were seven of us cousins, and eventually eight. And when I say the term cousin, the word doesn’t really apply. For me they are closer than my aunt’s kids…they are my friends, my family, my brothers and sisters, and in some ways, my heart. Together they all hold a piece of it, and when we all get together no matter what the occasion, it’s no surprise to me that I really come alive, because finally my heart is all in one place.

Sometimes I’ll be having a conversation someone and they will have an odd expression on their face, because they can’t relate to being “close with their cousin”…and some will even say…”I don’t even know my cousins”….but many people express their confusion when I ramble on about this cousin…or that cousin…by saying…”Now, which cousin are we talking about here?” And I just go, “Oh, yeah…I have a lot of cousins.”

I don’t have a cousin that I don’t look up to, even though I’m not the youngest. While my Grandma was my mom in many ways…my cousins were my hero’s. If God didn’t bless me with 7 weirdo’s I don’t know that I would have ever found my voice…not just as a comedian…but even as just plain David. Even now, my eyes are swelling with tears as I think about how much they all mean to me. I’m not even sure they even know the gargantuan impact they had on me.

This is the second year that they have talked me into playing fantasy football with them. And they think I don’t know why they want me to do it…they want to make fun of me….because I know nothing of sports…absolutely nothing. I will root for anything Indiana, of course…Colts, Pacers, IU basketball, and who doesn’t love the movie Hoosiers…and because I’m on Indiana Hoosier myself…I take my doing a commercial with Bobby Knight as a badge of honor…an honor of remembering my roots…Actually it’s not exactly true…it’s more than that they want to make fun of me…it’s that we all have something that continues to unite us after all these years. And the making fun of me thing…but I’ll be the punching bag as long as I get to hear the sound of them laughing. Laughing together.

Even today I could pick each of my cousin’s laugh out of crowd blindfolded. Each one. Carol Joy, Aaron, Amanda, Anna, John, Robyn…I can still remember the feeling of those Christmas Eve celebrations when we’d all sit around in a circle and open presents one by one…and in between always find a reason to make fun of my Grandma…and we’d all laugh…and laugh…and laugh…and Grandma would playfully say…”Oh stop it you assholes”…and then of course this would be followed by blushing, or taking out her false teeth and trying to gross us out…and then we’d go…”Grandma No!!!”

I can’t talk about my cousins, without talking about my Grandma…she had a deep impact on all of our lives…and while I knew that…I don’t think I fully understood until this last May when we all stood in a semi-circle around her freshly buried grave. One by one we went around and told what Grandma meant to each and every one of us. They all made me cry. Put it was funny …it was the smallest things that made me cry the most….like when my cousin John said…”you know I can still remember her number 317-897-0748…” And because John’s story is John’s I won’t share it here…but I will say he had something in common with all of us…we all knew we could count on her…we knew she would always be there…until one day she wasn’t.

As I’ve described in previous pages (blogs) home, with the exception of St. Grandma, wasn’t home. It wasn’t a place of warmth, unconditional love, understanding, humor, compassion, and safety…but my cousins were home. Camp gave me rope to swing to and look forward to …and I would swing from summer to summer to summer to survive. But in between, and in between my Grandma and my cousins I had a home. A home not built of brick and stone, but one of made of flesh and bone. They were truly my home, my heroes, and my saints.

St. Aaron, was cool. Before Aaron I thought cool only existed on television shows and movies. But when I was around Aaron, I witnessed cool in action. He was a towering giant compared to my shy persona as a kid. He wanted to be Michael J. Fox and the president. He was confident, funny, and made being asshole kind of bad ass …it was only frustrating when you’d experience the asshole …like I remember he came up to John and I and said…”you ever played 52 card pick up”…”What? No”…John and I were just excited that Aaron wanted to hang with us…and play with us…and then…yep…you guessed it…a machine gun of cards went all over the living room…as his giant cackling laugh echoed throughout the house as he cool-y walked out of the room. But, damn, he was cool. Last may it was an utter joy to smoke cigarettes and drink his home brewed beer and talk about Grandma and memories. I love my cousin, and he’s still so damn cool. And his lovely bride, Sarah. He got extra cool points marrying her.

St. Carol Joy…Carol was the only one who couldn’t join us at by Grandma’s graveside because she was halfway around the wold. When my life fell apart as a teenager, and the hell of home was at it’s full blown…she gave me the opportunity of a life time. She let me be her roommate in Broad Ripple…on the northside of Indianapolis…She was the oldest saint of the league of cousins…but in the brief time I got to live with Carol…she provided a sense of home and stability …and helped me transition into adulthood with comfort and compassion. I remember I was dating a girl that I shouldn’t have been…and she said…”David just break up with her”…it’s like the clouds parted and she was right…so I did. St. Carol Joy, to me will always be a cousin of joy …her joy, compassion, and smile could and can brighten anyones days…she helped me escape the hell of my childhood and that is a debt that I can never really repay. But I will always have a fondness for the year of 1997-1998. The laughs, the tears, and the deep talks over a glass of wine. She may be in a far off land, but she is never far from my heart.

St. Anna. Anna is beautiful, strong, and a no bull shit type of cousin. She is the saint of boldness, courageousness, and has truly taught be to “be who I am and don’t apologize for it”…I love that. We live in world of constant make believe…we all have on a mask pretending to be somebody we are not, because we fear the judgement or dislike of others. But not Anna. I’ll never forget the year of 1995-1996. She was my best bud that year. She was my hero. As the years would pass by we’d loose a bit of touch, but she was always there for me. Always loyal. There was a time in my life in college when the floor fell out beneath my feet…and I went and hid in her apartment in Broad Ripple for a few days. She was another saint in the league of cousins that taught be to be brave in my pain, and to worry not what others think of you. She eventually landed in Los Angeles, and she let me crash on her couch on a visit to see if the city was for me or not…We both live here now…both have families…and it’s a city that’s hell at times…at least for me…a city where we are all busy being busy…and a city that can be painful…but just knowing I have a hero in this town, makes me a little more brave to bear that pain.

St. Robyn, aka, Bubba…Robyn was the youngest…until my sister Israel came along. But she wouldn’t arrive on the scene until I left for college. I always wished Israel was born much closer to our age, but fate had different plans. Robyn is the sweetest, kindest, person you could ever meet…St. Robyn could make anyone feel better with the simplest of gestures…like a smile, or a joke. I have so many fun memories of card games, movies, and meaningful conversations over the years. Robin has a true relentless compassion to her spirit. I see it in her eyes. She is humble. Maybe a trait easily learned to put others before yourself…because others came before yourself. But I’m so thankful she was last, because she taught us all to love, to be kind, to see the best in people, to not judge, to hear other people’s side of the story.

St. Amanda, aka Lisa Bulkhardt, aka Washoogie, aka my Friday Night Live co-host, C.H.T. co-founder, aka the only person to make me laugh so hard I once had hot chocolate come out of my nose. I may have more inside jokes with Amanda, than I have with any other human being. We both wanted to be actors, but she went out and put in the hard work and actually became one. Even when we’d both have a good idea, she would go out and do it better. She was and is wiser and smarter, more driven than any other human being you could meet. I don’t think she taught me this skill, as much as I sit in awe of it…if she puts her mind to anything…and I mean anything…she can accomplish it. I remember when we were both living a few blocks from each other …and I came into her apartment…and she was checking her email..and I just squeaked out…”Amanda…I think I want to kill myself”…She held me, and cried with me. She loved me so well. There are so many moments that I’ll never forget, so many laughs, so many memories…but I’ll never forget how well she loved me in my toughest moments. I only hope I can love her and her lovely sweetheart wife Amy…as well as they love me. I owe Amanda a larger debt that I could never repay, at least not in this lifetime.

And Last, but not least…St. John Paul Hocker. He is only one month older than me, but he is so much smarter than me. So talented, so determined, he never gives up no matter how hard it gets. He was my best childhood friend, and I thought I would never recover when He and St. Robyn had to move away when I was in the eighth grade…One of my favorite things about St. John is just being around him. He makes me laugh. Hard. He’s so sharp, witty, and sarcastic. He’s going to be richer than the rest of us too…so I’m trying to be extra nice to him…We spent more hours in the movies, and playing ninja turtles at Movies 8 on the east side of Indianapolis  than I could possibly count…We would make each other laugh in hysterics as we would sneak in 2 liter bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, and whole bag of potatoes chips to the movies under our clothes…eventually it got of hand where we were taking in whole duffle bags of food and candy…they were on to us…we spent a few summers working for and cooking for my dad…they were really miserable…specifically working for my dad…but John’s sense of humor in those scenarios…not only made the experience bearable…but flat out hilarious…

I’ve always said and told people that my childhood was horrible and hellish…but as I stood around the graveside of my Grandma this past may…and I looked around at the tear soaked faces of all the saints of my past…there hero’s of my childhood…my cousins…I realized…Yeah, it was tuff, but they sure made it a hell of a lot better, and made it even fun a times, and sometimes more than fun…sometimes I feel that I had the best damn childhood anyone could ever have…because I have six cousins out there who made me brave, confident, cool, sarcastic, funny, hilarious, kind, compassionate, loyal, tender…all that I really have and am I learned from them. And while I may suck and be silent in our fantasy football league, I am a life that will forever be changed because I was in a different league, because I was in the league of cousins. My heroes.

St. Dave with the wave who forgot to shave his wave

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~ by David Leo Schultz on December 1, 2015.

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