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2022 brings a sad change to the landscape

I remember sitting on the back porch one day last summer thinking to myself how blessed I am.

That’s for a lot of reasons, including that I live in the built-in-the-1880s Hout House family homestead where I grew up in the company of loving parents and in the midst of four older siblings with whom I remain connected.

And I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where our next-door neighbors were Aunt Betty and Uncle Howard and my cousins Joyce, Ronnie and Denny, with whom I remain connected.

We were all together, side by side, cousins who played hide and go seek, went sled riding, shot hoops and organized baseball games in the back field where the horses now graze.

We switched holidays between Aunt Betty’s for Thanksgiving, cousins retreating to the basement after dinner for slot car racing long into the night. We had Christmas at our house.

Under those growing-up circumstances, the role and authority of a mom and dad and an aunt and uncle intertwined and overlapped without question.

With eight kids and four adults, it was always someone’s birthday to celebrate.

That summer day last year, I was sitting there admiring the landscape, watching my then 100-year-old Aunt Betty assess the progress of her garden and watching cousin Ronnie do what cousin Ronnie had to have been born to do — to mow and mow and then mow some more.

I was appreciating the golf course pristine end product of his labor, soaking in this overall visual that included Aunt Betty picking green beans, and feeling this hard-to-describe, thank you-Lord moment I was having.

I felt truly blessed to be taking in the sight of what to others might appear to be just people doing stuff needing done on any old to-do list.

There was a peace about it.

I’ve thought about this in the days since my cousin Ronnie died on May 2 at age 70 after a too-late cancer diagnosis brought a too-swift ending.

The impact of reality’s gut punch will linger long.

It’s hard to look at the landscape now and not see Ronnie. He was either behind a mower or on one, driving a tractor, shoveling snow from a driveway, wielding a weed-wacker, pushing a wheelbarrow, monitoring a fire, washing and waxing a car, doing something that always made the rest of us feel a little guilty, as if our work ethic was a bit below par.

It’s hard to hold a candle next to a floodlight.

I saw Ronnie every day, reassured by his smile and “Hey, Janice!” greeting or his arm held high with the Ronnie wave to acknowledge my comings and goings.

He was the go-to guy for family history info or confirmation on the date of this or that.

He never forgot a birthday or some tidbit of trivia attached to it.

On my 64th birthday last month, a not-so-robust Ronnie reminded me that I had arrived home at the Hout House in 1958 in a Lincoln Continental, courtesy of a father who was selling cars at the time at Winston Motors in Steubenville.

No way would I have ever imagined that 2022 would chip away at my family’s foundation, that Ronnie would be gone, that my circle of cousins would shrink, that our Mother’s Day weekend would involve a mother burying a son.

A friend wrote in a sympathy card to me that “Cousins connect families to each other in unique, special ways.”

Yes they do. Always.

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