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Lynna Clark: My mean cousin

He was known as the mean cousin. But I liked him. When we were little, we used to play together at my grandmaw’s house. The warning was always the same. “Don’t knock over those spit cans or you’ll find yourself cleaning up a mess.”

For those of you not familiar with spit cans, they are either peach or coffee cans whereby one can spit snuff or tobacco juice. Conveniently placed between platform rockers, we learned to avoid them at all cost. The best way to do that was to take our rowdiness outside or into a back room.

The den, or the front room as it was called, had the only heater. That room was hotter than a hooker’s doorknob on payday.

Wait a minute. Everybody knows I am a follower of Jesus. Should I say stuff like that? I told David what I wrote and asked what he thought. He commented, “I’ve been in your grandmaw’s den and remember how hot it was. That sounds about right.”

Anyway, the front room was hot, and crowded, and hazy. Those who weren’t dippin’ or chewin’ were smoking cigarettes. This was North Carolina in the early sixties after all. So me and my mean cousin would go elsewhere to see what we could get into.

Upstairs was haunted. Every kid knew that. Plus one of my drunk uncles was usually passed out up there.

Yes, mine was a magical childhood.

Grandmaw’s bedroom downstairs was off-limits. But she had a cedar wardrobe that I thought smelled like heaven. I’d send my cousin off to the barn or somewhere and slip into grandmaw’s room. The few church dresses she owned were hung neatly in that wardrobe so I’d climb in behind them. Sitting quietly in my hiding place, I’d breathe in the scent of cedar. By the grace of God, no one ever caught me or I would’ve been labeled the sneaky one.

I bumped into my mean cousin recently at a Christmas gathering and had to ask who he was. The last time I saw him he didn’t have a beard down to his chest. He reprimanded me for ditching the past holiday dinners where the bulk of the cousins get together. I think in his own way he was saying he missed me. At least that’s how I took it.

After the meal I found my mean cousin again. He warned me not to skip the party next year then added, “It was good to see you.”

For a moment we were seven years old, running through grandmaw’s backyard toward the barn. We climbed the ladder to the loft and hid near the trap door for a quick escape. I always felt safe when he was around. Suddenly I missed him very much. In fact, I can’t even remember why he was considered mean. Perhaps part of Christmas is about learning to give grace. Every family probably has at least one crotchety old guy, a drunk uncle, or a mean cousin. Maybe they’ve worn that label so long they don’t know how to be anything else. At the first Christmas Mary was likely labeled immoral, Jesus illegitimate, and Joseph foolish. Thank God He is not interested in outward appearances. Labels fall away and we’re welcomed into His fold.

He sees through both the tough exterior and the self-righteous façade. He pulls us from our hiding places and loves us where we are. Whether you’re considered mean or just down right sneaky, may you draw near to the Savior this Christmas.

He misses you very much.

Oh, and stay away from those spit cans at all cost!

Lynna Clark lives in Salisbury. Read more at Lynna’s Wonderful Life at wordpress.com

 

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