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By Debbi Migit
“C’mon, climb up!” My cousin, Krista, reached down to pull me up into the bed of Grandpa’s old red truck. I turned to grab Lisa, Krista’s younger sister , and together we clambered up. Flynn cousins scooted over to make room just as the engine rumbled to life. Grandpa poked his head out of the window to call out, “Hang on!”, and we were off, holding on to the sides of the truck, and each other, as we slowly bounced over the gravel driveway that wound through my grandparent’s farm.
This was the first time I had been allowed to ride in the back of the truck with the ‘big kids’ and I was excited and a little terrified. What if I threw up? What if I fell out? I wasn’t so worried about injury, but I knew the first time one of us landed in the dirt there would be no more rides for any of us. I didn’t want to be the one to cause such a disaster.
The fact that we were actually traveling about five miles per hour minimized that chance, but to my seven- year-old self, it seemed like we were flying. The older boys, Marty and Steve, were standing up near the cab, holding on to the open window frame. They were doing their best to look bored, but I knew they were excited, too. Riding in the back of Grandpa’s truck was a special treat, made even more special by the fact that we had crammed as many of us into the back as we could. In 1962 there were ten Flynn cousins; eventually we would number twenty-three.
There were other rides in that old red truck. One day the older boys pulled it up to the towering oak tree that stood sentinel at the corner of my grandparent’s huge yard. They positioned it right where the rope swing hung from a sturdy branch, and then monkey- climbed to the top of the rope, hanging on as they encouraged us all to join them. The back of the red truck gave us the boost we needed, and one by one, we attached ourselves to the rope on either side of the long wooden plank that served as the seat of the swing. That day, twelve Flynn cousins hung from the rope swing, whooping and hollering until our parents came out to ask us “just what do you all think you are doing?!” I didn’t know the word for it then, but today I do. We were bonding.
Eventually, the old red pick-up was replaced with a newer model. Grandpa passed away in 1968 and Grandma left the farm to move into town. There were no more hide-and –seek games in the hayloft, or furious pounding on the outhouse door when the one bathroom in the house was occupied. But Grandma’s eight children, their spouses, and children continued to gather as often as we could. There were Easter eggs hunts in Grandma’s now tiny front yard, with older cousins helping the littles find their treasures. Fourth of July would find us scattered, more than sixty in number, over the hill facing the Pekin Arena, as fireworks rained down on us.
But, Christmas was a special treat, as Grandma’s small apartment filled with the aroma of her famous pies. Grandma insisted on buying a gift for every person in the family, which often meant marathon wrapping sessions for any cousins who might be handy. If an uncle or two showed up with a guitar, we would wrap in time to the music as we sang.
Always, we were together. When the old farmhouse burned down, several cousins salvaged some of the bricks from the foundation. They are a reminder that no matter what comes, we have a heritage of love that will withstand anything.
This was never more evident than a few months ago when Lisa was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Although she was weak, Lisa was determined to travel to my aunt’s house for one more cousin reunion. We spent four precious days together, reminiscing as we worked on family scrapbooks. Less than one month later, Lisa was gone.
I stood with Krista on the day of Lisa’s funeral as we watched the cars of cousins arrive for the service. “I didn’t expect them to travel so far,” she whispered.
I thought of that day so many years ago when cousins reached out to pull each other into Grandpa’s old red truck, and I knew: they would travel with us all the way.