Something someone said today reminded me of my first cousin, once removed. He lives in Colorado a few miles from my Great Grandfather's homestead, a place I visited eight years ago just to get the essence of his life, just to stand where he stood and look where he looked; imagine the furrows of his plow in the cornfield and the furrows grown on his brow after all the years he spent farming in the baking sun and freezing winter.
This first cousin once removed was a big story-teller at our family reunion. We--me, my dad and my nephew, had just come to Colorado after a hiatus in Mesa Verde, a place I never wanted to leave. The Anasazi cliff dwellings were like a home to me; I crawled where the Anasazi had crawled, examined the oily remains of campfires, and listened to their voices in the air as I stood over a kiva and felt their spirits move and sing like a soft rushing wind.
So Cousin Corbin seemed like Nothing to me--what did he know? Had he ever felt ancient spirits moving around him? I had felt wrong, even while experiencing a feeling of "rightness" standing there over a kiva; my body and soul crossing a line from 1990s America to pre-America, undated. An Anasazi kiva is a very sacred place; tourists beware. At the same time, I wanted my visit to the dwellings to be a real scene from Anasazi life and I wanted to be one of them; hoeing beans, running with sharp sticks, climbing ladders, crawling into their stacks of stone sleeping beds at night.
All through our big family reuinion (Millers from all over the Western states) there wasn't anything anyone could say that good-ole-boy Corbin didn't top with a sucker 10 times bigger than ours. If someone had made a cattle sale of 10 head, he had sold a 100 huge bulls that morning at dawn. If someone's wife could cook like a genius, his had already cooked for the angels of heaven. If someone's son had passed the bar exams on the first try, his had wrote the bar exams. You can imagine how beautiful his daughter was...and how rich her fiance was...and argh!
My young nephew and I developed a code acronym to get us through these tedious bragging sessions. Granted, Corbin had a wonderful Midwestern accent and we took joy in it. (I think it kept us from hugging him too tightly about the neck.) We are from Oregon and we roll our words together in soft syllables and rounded corners; vowels get lost sometimes in the n's and m's, and we drop g's like no tomorrow. We don't enunciate; Corbin enunciated like harvesting tractor in a hay field.
Our code started with my nephew saying, "ya know, no matter what anyone else sez, Corbin has "been there and done that already." (Corbin would have said, "ben thar, done that thar, all-ready.")
I practically shouted with glee, "Hey, He's BTDT!" "Instead of been-there, done-that, let's say "BTDT." After that breakthrough we would sit back, listen, and guffaw, or mimic guffawing with our mouths slanted open, because after all, we were at the mercy of our relatives' hospitality and didn't want to offend them. They excelled at hospitality. We had everything we needed and more. By the time we got home from our 9-state road trip, we were saying "that thar" and "btdt" in every sentence and laughing our heads off; even my dad (who is from stoic Mennonite stock, and although he never practiced that faith, he always had a rod up his back) would chuckle along with us.
I wish we could go back and do it all again. I miss Corbin, he was good for laughs. I heard he made County Commissioner, or something like that. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if he was the next Senator from southern Colorado. Still, I remember him every time I say BTDT. My daughter and I use it now and it always conjures up the sound of Corbin and how he looked in his expensive white cowboy hat, standing there in front of a crowd, a diamond smile cleaving his tanned face, waving his arms and telling us straight: "Folks, I have been there and done that."