Today is the birthday of my dear double cousin. When I think of her, I think of grace and strength and laughter. She is a wonder.
Thanks to having fathers who are brothers and mothers who are sisters (2 brothers married 2 sisters), we share enough genes to be sisters, and indeed she feels like my sister. My cousin was one of my very best friends through my growing up years, and she is still the person to whom I feel I can tell anything. When my life has fallen apart, she is the one to whom I run.
As an added bonus, she has known me for my entire life. She was the person who advised me through every childhood crush. The person who would happily read silently with me — or talk until the wee hours of the night. The person with whom I most often laugh until the muscles in our stomach ache. She was also the person in the passenger seat when I accidentally drove our station wagon seriously off-road, ending in donuts that ruined a pristine golf course. When the irate golfers began to chase us, she was the one yelling “Faster, faster, drive into the woods!”
Because we share all of the same extended family members – and because our parents were close – we share many of the same memories of childhood. The smell of dried banana chips reminds both of us of car sickness since they were the snack of many a long car trip. We know that our grandmother’s soup should be avoided at all costs. The mention of a not-to-be-described-bed-breaking incident makes both of us laugh uncontrollably.
And when we think of Washington DC, we think of facing one of our greatest fears.
Our earliest memories of Washington DC are that of family vacation disaster. This is what I remember: Sweltering heat in the middle of July and becoming exhausted and sick with heatstroke while waiting in line to go up in the Washington Monument. Staying all the while at a campground in the aforementioned sweltering heat with our large combined families. And then the water stopped working. Days without showers. And my younger brother got terribly sick, with sores covering the inside of his mouth and throat. I recall very stressed out adults, and, in retrospect, I can imagine that the no-water, very-hot campground days with 7 children was not an idyllic family get-away.
But what we remember the most clearly was this: We were driving around the Mall in downtown DC, and, for extra fun, the engine in my uncle and aunt’s van caught fire. This was a old-school conversion van with the engine stuck between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. As the flames and smoke billowed from the front of the van, all of us kids had to quickly evacuate.
Our parents attempted to extinguish the fire with trusty thermoses of coffee (Dutch parents carry those in abundance) and the wailing fire engine sirens could be heard as the engines attempted to make their way through traffic.
But as my cousin and I stood on the sidewalk in the midst of this emergency scene, we had only panic for only one thing — our library books that we had been forced to abandon inside of the van. WHAT IF THE LIBRARY BOOKS BURNED???
Two book-loving nerds, fearing the loss of books read and unread that did not belong to us. After all, what Midwestern librarian would believe that your library books were incinerated in a conversion van inferno in Washington DC? The revoking of our library cards would have been much, much worse than hot days without running water. It is a nightmare scenario that haunts us still.
And so, on this birthday in 2014, I wish you a day with many books, much laughter, and knowledge of all of the love that so many have for you! Happy birthday, dear one.
As a side note, I dedicated our forth-coming sex book to her…