Uncle Cousin

PHILADELPHIA — A fellow columnist, Ernesto Portillo Jr., on hearing my description of my mom’s favorite cousin, who’s lived in a suburb in New Jersey for 19 years, said last week, “Mexicans would call him your uncle, never mind the precise lineage.” I’ll continue to call him by his name, or Cousin (my brother calls him Cuz, and Mom was the only one allowed to call him by the childhood name Junior), but Ernesto nailed the relationship: Uncle-Nephew.

I have few relatives. Dad had a much older brother, my blood uncle, but he married late and had no children. Mom was an only child, and this man we’re seeing was, well, as close to a brother as she ever had, she in Fort Smith and he in Hot Springs, but the families got together several times a year. He spent most of his adult years in New York, and visits at best were annual. I haven’t seen him in 11 or 12 years, but we write and phone.

We met here Sunday after the conference, visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, concentrating on the favorite of the three of us, Impressionism. We traveled to Medford on Monday and spent the afternoon at his home.

Uncle Cousin at 85 is a lifelong traveler, and he always has great stories about his trips. Earlier this month he returned from a couple of weeks seeing several Adriatic countries. I hoped to hear sage advice from him on our trip to Philly. We talked about everything else, but maybe I picked up what I needed: The importance of planning even when circumstances later force changes. The openness to improvisation and surprise must trot alongside the research and scheduling. But most of all, being aggravated is a part of travel. He is easily annoyed, as we are, too. I thought that had to be ditched, in order to tolerate travel, but apparently you take yourself with you wherever you go.

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