Thursday, November 15, 2012
Growing up, I didn’t have an enduring nickname, but my cousin Lori was always “Miss Pig.” I don’t know how she got the nickname, but she always got pig-themed gifts.
The nickname was never ironic or sarcastic. I’m sure the nickname indicated fondness.
My mom was two years older than Lori’s mom, my Aunt Mary Ann, and Lori was four months older than I was. Thus, she was my elder, a fact she didn’t let me forget when we were younger, and I don’t let her forget now that we’re nearing fifty.
I think my first memory of Lori was when Sister Jen and I visited her family in Winston-Salem, and I staged my first non-violent protest. Lori and I were six years old and Sister Jen was three when we made brownies in Lori’s easy-bake oven.
Lori’s dad, my Uncle Tommy, ordered me to give my brownie to my boy-cousin Jeff, who was four and had been watching football with his dad, and as a feminist protest I popped the brownie in my mouth. (Sorry, Uncle Tommy—I know you didn’t know the whole story and more than forty years later you must be tired of hearing about it.)
As punishment, Uncle Tommy sent me to the bathroom to reflect on my bad-doings. Instead, I was indignant and then delighted when Cousin Lori joined me with the left over brownie mix. As I remember it, Cousin Lori and I scooped the brownie mix out of the bowl with our fingers, talked about the ways of being a woman in the world, and became fast friends.
Cousin Lori and I were both the eldest children of three children, and we were both redheads, though her hair was strawberry blond and mine was auburn.
Their family lived in Raleigh for a while when we were young and then in a nearby town called Cary, so we saw each other often. Cousin Lori was always fretting about her split ends and her weight (because of the fashion of women worrying about their weight, not because she was overweight). She also mourned our aging as we moved from “child” to “kid” to “pre-teen” to “teen.” The designations didn’t bother me.
I think it was when we were in sixth grade that we went up to the front for communion in our large Southern Baptist and we got the giggles so badly that I could only tremble and pass her the bread and the little grape juice glasses instead of saying somberly, “This is the body of our Lord, broken for you,” and “This is the blood of our Lord, poured for you.”
After church Mrs. Mackee scolded us for our irreverence. Unaccustomed to being scolded by an adult other than my parents, I remember trying not to giggle again.
When we were in middle-school, Cousin Lori had moved to a different city (Charlotte, I think), and her family went to a more conservative church than our family did. One day, Cousin Lori asked me, “Are you saved?”
Not knowing that term and already slightly suspicious of it, I asked, “What does that mean?”
“It’s when you accept Jesus into your heart,” she explained, and she told me about the day that she was saved. I think Cousin Jeff was with us, and he told me about being saved, too.
“We don’t talk like that in my church,” I told them. “I wasn’t saved on a particular day. It just happened gradually as I grew up.”
My cousins seemed satisfied with my response and didn’t quiz me further.
Later, for college, I went to the small liberal arts Davidson near Charlotte, where Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Tommy lived, and Cousin Lori went to North Carolina State University (NCSU), the state university in Raleigh, the city where my parents lived.
Though NCSU is a large university, Cousin Lori and my high school friends Becky and Catherine lived on the same floor in the same dorm and became friends. I visited them when my college was out for Christmas break before the university was.
Becky and Catherine were roommates, and Becky was frustrated because Catherine and her boyfriend had taken to going into the room and closing the door. This happened while I was visiting, and Cousin Lori decided to find out what was going on: she would “spy” on them.
Cousin Lori donned what she imagined a spy would wear: a trench coat, hat, and dark glasses, and went to the closed door. She threw the door open, jumped into the frame, opened her eyes and mouth wide, then covered her mouth with a gasp, and ran from the room.
I still don’t know what, if anything, happened, but the scene seemed straight out of “I Love Lucy,” and I laughed so hard that I wet my pants a little.
Fast forward to our adulthood: We live different lives now. Cousin Lori has married, has two kids, and lives in a small town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, where she grew up.
I moved to Dallas, got married, moved to Seattle, got divorced, and came out as a lesbian.
When I came out to Cousin Lori twenty years ago, she called and said, “I don’t understand.” I really think she still loved me. She sent me a membership to Focus on the Family, which I believe she intended as a gift of kindness.
When my partner and I have visited Charlotte, my Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Tommy have hosted us, and everyone, including Cousin Lori, has been loving.
When Cousin Lori and her family visited Seattle a decade ago, however, she didn’t contact me. I thought that was strange.
After this year’s presidential election, I was relieved at the outcome and emailed my family to say that I knew some of them felt like I would have felt had Romney been elected: afraid, sad, worried for my country.
Cousin Lori emailed to share her sadness, and she mused, “I wonder why we are so different when we came from such a similar background.”
I wonder that, too. Maybe it’s because her parents are more conservative than mine, and so was her church. Maybe it’s because I had a young feminist sister as my next sibling, and she had an athletic brother. Maybe because she stayed in North Carolina, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe because I’m a lesbian, and she’s not. The possibilities go on.
Maybe, partly, we were just born this way.