A Cousin’s Life

Color photograph of a Bernese mountain dog, a sitting middle-aged man in a yellow short-sleeve shirt, and an elderly woman with white hair and a red sweater, in a wheelchair. The man has his right arm stretched up as high as possible, holding a treat between his fingers. The dog is standing up, with her front legs wrapped around both sides of the man's arm and resting her paws on his shoulder, stretching her head toward the treat. The dog's and the man's eyes are focused on the treat; the woman is looking straight into the camera.
Natascha, Marcel, and my Female’s mother, 2001 – Photograph copyright © 2001 Mignon Naegeli

It is the time to reminisce, gathering with family and friends.
Often distances, whatever and wherever they may be, make closeness difficult—but not entirely impossible, thanks to electronics and inventions of our time.

My Female often talks of Alice, a good-hearted woman, the first of twelve children by Josephine, the oldest sister of the Female’s father. Alice grew up in Basel, where aunt Josephine had settled with her husband August, around the middle of the last century. Alice and her husband Franz moved to Detroit, where they raised three wonderful children. Years and years ago, the Wolfman and my Female visited the family on their way to Cleveland, where they picked up my feline sister’s predecessor, Silky Paws, who lived a long cat live of 23. The cousins remain in close contact, by iPad and smart phone. Way to go!

The Female’s father had a second, much younger sister, who couldn’t match Josephine’s dozen offsprings, yet managed to get half as many. Anna, just a little over ten years older than my Female, was more like a sister than an aunt. She was a woman full of life and joy, keen to help people in need, baking, knitting, and inventing delightful eggnogs, Christmas decorations, even restoring derelict grave sites to pleasant, colorful resting places of long forgotten loved ones.
One of Anna’s sons, the eldest, about ten years younger than my Female, had a hard time battling drugs throughout his teenage and later years. He married a beautiful, equally drug addicted woman, moved his family—which, by then, included two children—to a Hippy Colony in Portugal.

Years passed. The wife had found—and gotten pregnant by—another dude, remained in the temperate climate to eventually die at an early age. By then, Marcel had met and married another woman, a mother of one. He moved his new family back to Switzerland, where his parents embraced them with open arms, delighted to have her firstborn and his family close by.

Anna’s, the gregarious, loving aunt’s last visitors happened to be the Wolfman and my Female, on March 20, 1989. They had visited the Female’s parents, and knowing of Anna’s illness, they stopped by her and her husband’s home on their way from Lucerne to Zürich. It was the Human’s  last evening in Switzerland before returning to Atlanta. Anna, who suffered from a severe Brain tumor, still was giggling as ever, kidding about her illness, and chiding her “clunking” body.

Color portrait of a woman with gray and brown hair and dark eyes

At two AM, on March 21, the phone rang at the Wolfman’s parent’s home. Anna’s son, Wädu, who still lived at home with his parents, informed my Female of Anna’s passing.

She had not even reached the age the Beatles asked in their ballad, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me—When I’m sixty-four?

Yes — we all would have! She was merely 58.

It was a sad return home for my Female, who usually was happy to hop on the plane after a trip to her homeland, a duty she took on, often more than once a year.

I’m not quite sure why she so frequently made those dreaded trips. Money was scarce, the overseas airfares during that period didn’t include connecting commuter destinations. She even resorted to paying much lesser amounts to get some of the construction workers she had met while photographing her “Male Human” series, to give her an almost four hour ride in rattling pick up trucks to Atlanta International Airport. Young men, eager to escape on a meagerly paid short gig; an adventure trip, which one of them defined as a “sniff in the fast lane.”

After learning of Anna’s passing, the Female shed many tears hidden by shaded glasses during the over ten hours Atlantic crossing, mourning the loss of a women who had always been there for her, giving her a safe haven to visit any time on her long lonely roams through her town as a child.

Today, she remembers the generous, handmade Christmas gifts from both of her aunts: painted porcelain and knitted socks crafted by Josephine, and the Advent wreaths with the four candles and the aforementioned eggnog that Anna gave to her brother’s family, which father Gottlieb gulped down right out of the bottle, before anybody else had a chance to get a sip.

My Human’s do remember well the delicious handmade chocolate truffles they received by mail from Josephine for Advent, year after year.
Anna tended the graves of the Female’s grand parents before All Saints Day; sites she visited often. Much later, those serene moments inspired the black and white photo series, “Remembrances of the Past,” which is a tribute to my Human’s, to their homeland, and to their new country.

Decades later, the Female experienced another family generosity when she and Anna’s oldest really bonded. What came from a loving, yet odd relationship with a mostly drug imbued younger relative, who barely functioned on a parallel life cycle, eventually turned into affection and trust.

My Female’s beautiful mother resided in a nursing home, near her hometown, after having suffered a stroke on the Spanish Isle of Tenerife. REGA, the Swiss Air Rescue, agreed to transport the fragile woman back to Switzerland on a stormy January day in 1999, after a financial settlement by my Human’s.

A new century started with big celebrations. Then came 9/11, the event that changed everything. Overseas travel became more cumbersome, but life went on. Twice a year, the Female bravely took the trip to Zürich, lit up, like most passengers, as soon as they reached the baggage claim.

One time, when she did one of those dreaded journeys and arrived at the Staffelnhof nursing home, a couple with a stunning Bernese Mountain dog sat with her mother; it turned out to be Marcel and his then wife.

Mother Heidi, who was silent most of the rest of her time, had no problem with the beautiful dog and his owner. She had, though, a silent language with her daughter by lifting her shoulders or making faces, not unlike Lucille Ball—only to be understood by her daughter.

Once in a while, my canine counterpart and his people met with the Female again when she was visiting. One day, they went to the nearby park, dog and all. Suddenly the still beautiful old woman began screaming, pulling at the wife’s ample curls. All the daughter noted, was that her cousin’s—then—wife was bent over her mother. — ? —

Nikita died at the age of eight, mother Heidi a few years later. The Female learned about her passing at five AM from a caring nurse, who took the time to call the number in the far away country. The Female then called Marcel, who rushed to hold a wake, sitting the entire day in the sunlit room with the dead woman and the view of Mount Pilatus, the protecting rock that over-towers the lovely town beneath.

The curly wife ultimately departed for British Columbia, and the gentle cousin found a beautiful, stable, and sincere new partner.

I hope they will really live happily ever after. He deserves it.

Happy holidays

December, 2015

To Marcel

One Comment on “A Cousin’s Life

  1. Ich lese deine schoenen & ruehrenden Briefe immer. Danke fuer dein Vertrauen.
    Dir und Wolf weiterhin alles Gute & auf Wiederhoeren nach meiner Pensionierung!

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