Richard met us at the door. I could see the loss of sleep in his eyes. I could see the concern. I could see the heartache. I could see he had aged “more than a little” since we’d eaten at Anne’s Diner the summer before. But mostly I saw the love.

He married Kathy Sue Kennedy in June of 1972. I didn’t tell him at the time, but he was getting the very best we had. I figured unless he was a complete idiot, he already knew that!

He smiled and ushered us into his home like we were first cousins….which is exactly what David and I were. And let me educate you a little here on country cousin terminology. It’s no trifling matter among the uncomplicated but astute folks that grew up out along Sugar Creek in Lawrence County, Tennessee.

There are natural cousins. Kathy’s father and our Mother were brother and sister. You’re kind of stuck with that cousin no matter the disposition, inclination, temperament or political persuasion. It’s cousins for life….for better or worse….richer or poorer….horse thief or henchman….

Richard had “married in.” There is an option involved here. If the “new” member was deemed OK, worthy, one of us—the “marrying in” tag is never, ever used. If the “by marriage” person was a half-way scoundrel, didn’t treat any member of the family with the utmost respect or his granddaddy voted against Franklin Roosevelt, he wasn’t actually a cousin; he was here only by marriage. I don’t care if “this one” had been living amongst us for fifty years; they were still referred to as having “married in.” Every time!

Richard is our cousin.

Kathy looked weak. But she smiled as she greeted us. And seemed genuinely pleased that we’d come. Her older sister, Martha, was there along with both brothers and Joe’s wife, Wanda. Wanda, in case you are wondering, has also never been considered as “married in”. She’s one of us!

We sat around in a family circle talking about the days most of them were working at the local Murray Ohio Manufacturing Plant, putting together bicycles and lawnmowers. They called it, “hurryin’ for Murray!”

Doctors, hospital visits and endless tests were not mentioned. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, they were regulated to the back burner for a brief respite.

Martha detailed how she weaved bicycle spokes into hubs. Richard had us laughing about interviewing “different” applicants for jobs at Murray. I never left the conversation but my mind time-warped back to the 1950’s.

We spent a lot of summers visiting with J. C., Joe, Martha and Kathy. We’d rummage through the barn, take a bath in the creek and throw crabapples at the cows when Uncle Clifford wasn’t looking. Us boys would wrestle a mite and try to think of ways to annoy the baby sisters. They were hard to rile! Both Martha and Kathy would just nod and grin at us.

Those are the special days you cling to later in life when things get out of kilter…..

Kathy was the youngest. We all counted her as the sweetest and most thoughtful of the whole bunch—and the prettiest, inside and out! Her curly hair and quiet disposition was inherited from Aunt Delia. As was her smile, which started somewhere close to her heart and spilled out through the eyes before drifting down to her mouth.

As the Murray chronicles, and laughter, continued I kicked myself for moving so far away. A paying job, raising children and life in general, can keep us busier and more occupied than we ought to let it.

But I’m telling you, family transcends miles, years, floods, famine, pestilence and heartache.

The world thinks it’s not worth telling if the “story” is not about greed, avarice, political shenanigans, border crossings, failed drug tests, police shootings or Hollywood activists telling us how to live our lives.

How sad.

As we laughed our way through the afternoon, the overriding thought was our precious Kathy. She was the reason we had gathered on this day. AND I guarantee you ten times as many in our family were thinking about her in absentia.

Even as Richard shared in the conversation, his eyes kept moving back to his wife. He appreciated that we had come, but his concern never left Kathy. Not for one second.

We thought he was a great guy when he joined our family back in ’72…..but I realize today, we all underestimated him.

And family gathering to be family……now, that’s a real story!