& Today at a funeral home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan they are going to have a memorial service for my cousin and lifelong friend Beverly Harrison. Bev died Sept. 14 — a few weeks after her 83rd birthday and after a long and brave struggle against an incessant parade of afflictions that would have taken the smile off of anybody’s face — but not Bev’s.
I remember when I was just a tyke trying to learn how to tell a joke. Bad joke. Like the one about the fella who ate a can of beans to help him putt-putt-putt across the river. And Bev, bless her, would laugh and laugh. And I remember when I’d pick up the guitar and play and sing a funny Smothers Brothers song. Bad playing. Bad singing. And Bev would laugh and laugh and call for more. “C’mon, Bobby, play some more!” she’d say with that nasally Michigan twinge, “Aw, c’mon!”
For 70 years, she was my best audience. And now she’s gone, so I’d better quit telling jokes and murder my music in solitude.
As we grew older, our extended Detroit-centered family split up, landing as far away as Miami Beach and Puget Sound, as high and cool as the Colorado Rockies and as low and hot as the deserts of Arizona. Bev stayed in Detroit, near her sons and her grandchildren and her friends in the Grosse Point Public School system, where she worked for many years. Occasionally, she would venture away from home, to ooh and aah at the wonders of the West, but not often. In recent years, she would tell me in one of our infrequent telephone conversations that she wanted to visit me here in New Mexico. She never did, but there were many times, when I’d be riding my horse up against the spectacular rise of Jemez Mountains, or driving along the moonlit Sangre de Cristos north of Santa Fe, I’d think of Bev and hear her oohing and aahing at the grandeur.
Of all of the members of my family — and there are many, scattered like grains of salt across America — no one did as much as Beverly to maintain some communication, some family connection, however tenuous. It’s a midwestern thing — this core-family concept — not found as often, I fear, out here in the West. Of all the connections she kept, none was as diligent and consistent as her tie to my mother, her aunt Ruth. Every Sunday, for years and years, Bev and Ruth would get on the phone and chatter and kibitz and laugh and remember things about the old days and the old ways and the things we did and should have done and maybe should do some day — and that Bev-Ruthie connection, I realized, was the remaining core of our melted-away families. We weren’t close, but at least there was a tie; we knew something about each other. And that was important.
Ruth left us five years ago, one year into her second century, and we lost the final connection to that generation of our family. Now Bev has gone, the first of my generation. It’s a cause for a pause, no doubt. We weren’t all that close, but she was family. And she never failed to be my best audience. I’ll miss her.
I don’t know where she is now — who among us has the unbridled arrogance to pretend knowledge of that sort? — but wherever that is, if only in a memory, I have no doubt that my cousin Bev is laughing.
Rest in peace — and in good humor — cousin Bev.
& Leaving another big chunk of me beside the road, I’m outta here.