Of cousins, croquet and a most jubilant journey

May 20, 2018

alignleftIt was the day before the service and mom was trying to find the address of the local cemetery for our cousin from Lawrence to punch into the navigation system. They were leaving in the morning and time would be tight. But try as she might, we finally had to admit that Google does not know everything.

So alas, we reverted to the ancient ways of the pre-internet age and told her to just to come by the house a few minutes early and they could follow us out.

About 10:30 the doorbell rang, and after the smiles, hugs, the “so good to see you” came the “how long has it been?” I did a dive into the cobwebs currently occupying the space between my ears and replied: “not since the estate sale when I bought your dad’s croquet set.”

Her eyes got big, her jaw dropped and for a few seconds I thought she was about to buckle. “YOU have it? Allen (brother) just called this week and said he was planning a retro party and wanted to know if I had it.”

While she did have “a” set, it was the old portable vintage mid 60’s model. Certainly not the one of a kind homemade set their dad, my uncle Milton, had crafted half a century ago.

Service time fast approaching the reunion would have to wait. Seeing cousin Alan at the cemetery I commented “I hear you’re having a retro party”, he got a quizzical look and asked how I knew. “Anne Marie came by the house first and mentioned it. Said you had called her about your dad’s old croquet set. I’ve got it back at the house; you’re free to take it back for your party.” He had the same response: “YOU have it?” I admitted that “Yeah, I was kind of surprised it was there, but I didn’t want it to get out of the family so I bought it.” “It wasn’t supposed to be, things were just crazy that day” he replied.

A couple minutes later, twin brother David was informed of the find and it was a wash, rinse, repeat reaction. For eighteen years I’d thought that it just didn’t mean as much to them as I’d thought but it wasn’t my place to judge. I was just happy to have it and know that I had my own little piece of Uncle Milton’s handiwork.

After the service they came by for the unveiling. I unlocked the shop, went to the back and started to carry it out but they were already inside. So I sat it on top of an empty dumpster cart and my cousins and I, who hadn’t been face to face in years, each found our inner Indiana Jones as we gazed upon the archeological find of the ages.

To others, just an old box of mallets and wickets; to us a treasure of memories of family and friends.

And right then and there, with us all gathered round and Herbie’s handiwork staring back at us from that cardboard box, the meeting was held.

First came the “how much did you pay for it?” and an offer to reimburse. Then a hundred, Ann Marie chiming in, “two if need be”. Which to each, I replied a definite “no”. What they didn’t know was that there was no amount of money that would return that set to them.

Because no matter how much I’d loved my Uncle Milton, no matter how much I loved holding one of his mallets in my hand and hearing that distinctive “smack” as I sent my ball through a wicket, in the end, he was their dad, not mine. And it was with them, not me, where that piece of him belonged.

Since it was going back to Alan’s for the party he volunteered to be the new “keeper” and to protect it from future auctions yet unknown. Heads nodded in agreement, we took it out to his Jeep, I took a pic for my own memory, and the rest as they say is history.

I arose that Saturday morning knowing only that mom and I would be going to cousin Gary’s graveside service, that his brother Don would be up from Dallas, cousin Anne Marie down from Lawrence and hopefully the “twins” as I knew them, cousins David and Alan could make it as well.

The day ended with me still shaking my head in awe.

But for a missing address to the cemetery there’d have been no early visit from Anne. No visit, no “how long has it been?”. No “how long?” no mention of auction. No auction chat and Herbie’s croquet set remains stored away in a shop corner in Kansas instead of finally back home where it belongs.

If that dear readers isn’t the epitome of “it’s the journey, not the destination” I don’t know what is.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the May 20, 2018 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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