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Today is my cousin Tina’s birthday. We were best friends all through our preteen years. I loved going to visit her, cried to stay over night. We played together. We had names for each other. She called me Bett, and I called her Teen. Nobody else in my family calls me Bett. As an adult, when I left home for college and jobs, I introduced myself as Bett.
When Uncle Ray bought the piece of land in Sand Flat where Aunt Duck lives still, I remember Tina and I digging all day to get a huge tree stump out of the yard. My daddy was there to build a fireplace and chimney for them, and he and Uncle Ray set us to digging out that obstruction. We dug all day long, down to huge roots and under them, until the thing looked like a giant spider. I can’t recall, but I imagine the men pulled it out with a truck.
I admired my cousin, only a month and a half older than I. Tina was smarter, taller, faster, more athletic. I believe it is always good to play against someone better than you in sports, and to have friends who are better than you. It improves your game and the person you are to hang around with smart people.
Tina influenced me to be better than I was.
As we grew up, we grew apart, both of us more involved in school and activities, in my case band. Tina ran track.
When I was in ninth grade, I won a state competition. The winners all came together during spring break at the University of Alabama for three days of rehearsals, topped by a concert. Since I was the only girl chosen from my band, I got to pick someone to go with me to Tuscaloosa and share a motel room. I picked Tina, because we both wanted to attend the University, and three days of exploring the campus was the thrill of our lives.
We had a great time. I know I wouldn’t have seen as much or been bold enough to venture out if Tina had not been with me. Her self assurance made me more so.
The night of the big concert, I was sick. I ran a high fever, but the show had to go on. My parents were supposed to be in the audience and drive Tina and me home afterward. They didn’t show up. I was worried, but still sick and feverish. We rode home with my band director and his wife.
When we got home, I can’t remember anything very clearly. I don’t know if Tina and I went to sleep, or whether we arrived early the next morning. In any case, I do remember Uncle Ray showing up to take Tina home, and my asking him where everybody was. He is the one who told me that my parents had been in a bad car accident, and that both were in the hospital. He drove me to the local hospital where Mama was. I burst out crying when I saw her. Her face was swollen to twice its size, and it was blue from bruising. She had a broken ankle and a broken arm. my stepfather had been taken to Mobile to another hospital because of his condition. He had two broken legs, a broken jaw, a lot of lacerations. He would require surgery and a long recovery time.
My mother insisted on checking herself out of the hospital to go to Mobile and be with my stepfather. She was in a wheelchair, but we took her to his room, where he lay with his jaw wired shut. It was a scary time.
That happened in March, and I recall my stepfather still in a wheelchair at my older sister’s graduation in May.
That’s the last time I remember being with my cousin Tina for any length of time. She left her family and moved to Birmingham to live with other relatives while she finished high school. We may have written letters to each other, but if so, I don’t recall any contact after that until we were both grown, both of us with our college degrees, Tina married. She and husband Bill had two beautiful daughters, grown up now with kids of their own.
Happy birthday, Tina. Thanks for all the good memories, and for inspiring me to be better.