Cousin Ron – Remembering
I come from a family of two children, my sister and me. Grace and I got along pretty well as brother and sister (except maybe that time I needed stitches…), but she was several years my senior. She was six years ahead of me in school, started college and moved out of the house in the late ’60s before I started high school.
In our extended Italian family, most of mom’s siblings had few children. Sort of odd for an Italian family, but that’s how it was. Uncle Mike was the exception. But mom was nearly the youngest of her siblings and my folks were older parents, so I actually had no first cousins my age. In fact, there were children of my first cousins older than me. But my cousin Ron was only three years older than me. He was the only child of my mom’s sister Mary. We spent a lot of time at Aunt Mary’s house and with her family at our house. Ron and I got along great, and looking back, we were in many ways like what I imagine brothers are like.
I looked forward to visiting with Ron (back then, he was Ronny – oh, and I was Anthony!). I never really considered that he was so much older than me but didn’t seem to mind hanging out with me. When you’re 6 or 7, three years is a lot.
When my parents passed, I did some sorting through old photos. There are many more to go through, but I brought a few home. Looking through them yesterday, it struck me how there are snapshots of events, and there’s Ron, often beside me.
Usually with a smile on his face – happy to be there. Happy to be with me.
Ron introduced me to comic books. He always had an assortment at his home that he let me read. Mom never bought me a comic book – dad probably thought they weren’t great reading for his son. Or maybe I just didn’t ask. But Ron had all the classics and knew them well. This was the era of the Batman TV show which we both disliked. I think we were too young to understand the tongue-in-cheek campiness of the show. Years later when I saw the Batman movie (the original cast one, not one of the newer serious movies), I was rolling on the floor laughing at lines like, “Hand me the bat-shark repellent, Robin!” Ron was there watching it with me.
We moved into a new development in 1960 on the far-north border of Columbus. As in, there were farm fields from our house north. Morse Road, for those who know Columbus, was a two-lane road, and there was an old airport just off Morse. Ron once told me about going into the airport buildings and finding a very old Coke machine with some rather sketchy bottles of Coke still in it.
As they began expanding the subdivision northward, we had a great place to explore. Houses under construction. Scrap wood to haul home. I think it was scrap. A bulldozer to play in. Or maybe, a bulldozer to start up. I vaguely remember we were shocked that the engine started and took off home. Like I said, we found mischief like I suspect brothers do.
We got older and interests changed. But Ron and I remained pretty close. My elementary school was grades 1 through 8, and high school was 9 through 12. I played football in 7th grade, pleasing my sports-loving father. But our “league” had a weight limit – 125 lbs. I barely made the cut-off, and for one game, I wasn’t allowed to play. By eighth grade, there was no way I’d be anywhere near 125 lbs. I was nearly the size I am now. The coach’s son, on the other hand, was a more typical size (tiny in my view at the time!). So there was no way he was going to move us to a bigger league. What to do.
I’d been taking drum lessons for a few years, looking forward to marching and concert bands in high school. Ron was in the band – he was a HS Junior then, and suggested why don’t I come by for a practice and see if the band director would let me play. We had a small school and a small band, so yeah, I could play. The snares were all taken, but there was an extra set of cymbals. So I joined the band in 8th grade and would spend 5 years playing – a wonderful part of my life. And it was Ron who got me there.
I got to spend two of those years with Ron in the band. We didn’t have a real home field then, so we played games at one or the other of the two local public high schools. We had to find our own transportation. Dad took me sometimes, but luckily Ron was driving by then. He had basically exclusive use of his father’s 1964 Dodge Dart. Ah, the Dart!
There was the time we were driving to one of those high schools, Northland HS. Northland HS is situated sort of in the middle of a housing development. We were on our way there and trying to remember which road do we turn on. They look a lot alike. Wrong choice – cul-de-sac. We got to the end and did the u-turn in the circle at the end of the road. As we reversed direction, there was a line of cars leading all the way back to the intersection. For some reason, they had all followed us! It was strange, but something I remember.
At the time, the Columbus outer belt, I-270, was under construction. There was a completed section at our end of town that went from High Street in Worthington to Cleveland Ave near Westerville. About 4 miles. That should be enough to get the Dart to 100 miles per hour. If we drove east, with the wind. It was, but not by a lot.
There was some road up north, near the reservoir, where Ron knew if you hit this hill going fast enough, you could get air. It was fun, so we’d do it repeatedly. Then we’d head to some pizza joint he knew about where the owner would fix an extra cheese pizza that had a ton of cheese. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. We’d play pinball or just talk.
After the football games, many of the band members would head out for pizza and pop. There were two or three places we’d frequent. One night, we decided on the place on Indianola Rd. I don’t remember the name, but it was near Cooke. When we got there, we had a decent size crowd, but there was some problem. I think it might have been closed for some reason, but we just couldn’t stay there. But many of the kids had been dropped off. There weren’t enough cars and those that were there started heading out (to our favorite, Fortes on Cleveland Ave.).
Ron had the Dart, and I was riding shotgun. He looks around and says, I think we’ll fit! So we start piling in. And piling in. And piling in. Way more people sitting on the seats than the seats were meant to hold. Then more people laying on top of the seated people. Or at their feet, or behind their heads. Wherever.
We disagree about the count. I remember the total being 11. Ron swears it was 13. In a 1964 Dodge Dart. I already mentioned that I was adult size already. Ron was big. I don’t think the remaining 9 or 11 averaged out to tiny. Ron remembered someone’s head was under his arm. Yeah, that was me. We drove down Morse Rd (the wider version close to what’s there now). It was fairly late and traffic then was light that time of night. There was a red light ahead and stopped at the light was a police car! What to do? Do we drive up next to it like there’s nothing odd and take a chance of him looking over at the car, window-to-window with bodies? Or do we stop 100 feet back. That can’t be good.
Ron slowed way down, didn’t stop, but we were discussing it all the way. Then the light turned green and the cruiser took off. Whew! We made it to Fortes in one piece. But that’s an experience I will never forget.
There was the time Ron called and asked if I wanted to play football. I’d ride my bike the 3 miles to a park near his house. We’d play tackle football, Ron and a bunch of his friends, and me – the kid. Oh yeah, no helmets, no pads. I likely had a concussion at one of these events when I was airborne and landed on my head. But I road my bike back home, happy to have had some fun playing football.
After Ron graduated, we spent a lot less time together, mostly only at family gatherings. Thanksgiving was always at our house. Christmas was at Aunt Erma’s. I did college, my skydiving thing, then graduated and left Columbus. I returned to serve as an usher for Ron’s wedding, but we only saw each other on and off over the years. Somehow, when we got together, we always had something to talk about. I’m not sure how that worked, but I guess brothers are sort of like that.
One of the hallmarks of our Italian family was food. We loved food. We loved to eat. A downside to this was diabetes. It took my grandmother and has afflicted many in my family. Yesterday, it took my cousin Ron from us. His life these past few years has probably not been the best, but he still seemed pretty up beat considering, even when I saw him last summer after dad’s funeral.
As I sat and thought about the stories I can remember, I was amazed how many came to mind. Not just the packed Dart, although that one pops in my head first. And I’m amazed how kind he was to a young kid. But I was his cousin. I was family. And that meant a lot to Ron. I’ll miss you, cousin.