Ghosts Around The Fire

My cousin died. He was probably the third-best liar I’ve ever known.

Understand that when I say this, I’m paying one of the highest compliments I know how to, but he’d have probably only accepted “storyteller”, and then only if he thought I’d argue the point. He was one of the best; never drew one out too long, and always good for a laugh. Reminded me always of his father, who I adored.

I’ve never gotten to know that side of the family all that well, not since I was old enough to have a personality, and that’s long been one of my deepest regrets. We live in different worlds, and my own is far removed from even those nearest to me. They mostly live in the north of Maine and don’t leave; I left Maine most of a decade ago and will probably never return, not for very long.

But some of the best memories of my childhood come from there. Cribbage with my uncle Clayton, who grinned even on his deathbed at some private joke; I’ll never forget that.  (“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he said.) My aunt Marie, who at my childish whim kept the thimble from her Monopoly game in her sewing box. The camp on the lake; the taste of baked beans, chicken on the grill; the smell of the pines and of rotting wood on the shore. And, always, stories by the fire.

Everyone is older now, and even some younger than I have passed on. Of those main figures in my life when I was a child, the anchors on whom I relied, most are gone now, and I don’t know what they’d have made of the man I’ve become. Somehow I think I’d always have fallen short; different worlds, as I said.

But tonight I’m full of regret for the life I should have lived, one that would have led me far more often to the north of Maine, to listen to stories around the camp fire.

And I’m deeply missing a man I never knew as well as I wanted to.

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