Vern, Ivan, Lloyd and Vera: My mother's family
When I was a little farm kid, I had a playmate who stood about five foot tall and ran me around the yard in my little red wagon which he had hooked up to our Golden Retriever Penny.
His name Vern and he was my best friend, a guy my mother could always count on to watch me, pick me up when I fell and scraped a knee, or put a cold compress on my leg when I got stung by one of Gramp's bees, which was pretty often.
Vern loved to sit on the step of the house. He'd play an horrific version of one country song or another on his guitar or his fiddle. Sometimes, he accompanied himself on the harmonica or the Jew's harp. Twang-a-lang, Twang-a-lang. If I close my eyes, I can still hear him catterwalling. Vern liked to wail or yodel which is why Granny always made him sit outside. He was a terrible picker and a worse singer, but oh, my, how he loved his music.
Vern wasn't one of the neighbor kids. Vern was my Uncle, a 50-year-old man child who worked the farm for my Grandparents in exchange for lodging, smokes and musical instruments. You can see him in this picture. He's the one with the "kitar" being accompanied by my uncles. Mom's in the foreground. Love this photo.
Because we lived in the land of secrets, no one ever explained to me what was wrong with Vern, why he wasn't a regular man with a regular brain. He just never grew up, the big people would say, and that, it seemed was explanation enough.
Vern was a man of routine. He woke up to giant breakfast of cornflakes with brown sugar piled high and big mug of coffee, double, double.
In the summer, Vern busied himself picking fruit and vegetables. After he was done his chores, he was off to the neighbors chatting them up, sharing a home-rolled cigarette or a cup of coffee, Then he was back to the farm to serenade the crows on the steps of our house.
I was a lucky little lady to have a pal like Vern.
He was the sweetest man I've ever known, maybe the only person I've ever met with no agenda or angle. Just a guy who liked his smokes, his flakes and his music.
When I was fourteen, Vern walked down the road to chat up the neighbors. It was apple picking season and the air was vagrant with sweetness.
He never came home that day. He just up and died on us, Granny said, collapsing in that farmer's field, felled by a heart attack, probably the result of a lifetime of smoking roll-your-owns and heaping brown sugar on cornflakes.
Vern's demise marked the beginning of the season of death for our family.
Vern was the first to go. Then Grandpa stroked out and was carried out on a stretcher, never to return.
Grandma died a year later just before Christmas.
It was a sad time for me.
As a teen, I spent more time at Butler's funeral home than I did at school dances, or so it seemed. After that, we moved to the city.
I was sad about leaving the farm, even sadder that in three short years I lost half the people I loved. I could accept the death of my grandparents, but not the death of Vern.
He wasn't an old guy to me. He was forever young. A kid trapped in an old person's body.
He was my first friend to die.
I still miss him.