Dec 17, 2016

Cousin Buster: Growing Up a Stranger

When I was a kid, I wasn't close to most of my cousins.  They were mostly teenagers or grownups, like my Cousin Joe (who I saw naked when I was 7).  Or little kids, like my Cousin Tracy (born when I was 12).

Cousin George was just my age, but he lived in South Carolina, so I only saw him twice.

Next closest was Cousin Tony, who everyone called Buster, a year and a half older than me.  He lived in a trailer on my Grandpa Prater's farm in northeastern Indiana.

His Dad was a grizzly-voiced Southerner who played cowboy songs on his guitar and found dire threats everywhere:

1. Be careful eating fish, 'cause if you accidentally swallow a bone, you'll die.
2. Don't touch that castoff couch, 'cause the stuffing is poison, and you'll die.
3. Don't go near the peat bog, 'cause there are toads and poisonous snakes, and you'll die.

His Mom, had a huge repertoire of stories about ghosts, like her grandmother's tale of the Naked Ghost at the Crossroads.  Plus poltergeists, mysterious disappearances, and UFOs, probably the beginning of my lifelong interest in the paranormal.

And she made the world's best pancakes.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to stay overnight in the trailer in the dark woods, where Buster and I could read Casper comic books, play with G.I. Joes,  listen to cowboy songs, and fall asleep side by side in his narrow bed while my aunt told us ghost stories. Some of my first glimpses of homoerotic desire.

But one summer his comic books and G.I. Joes were gone, sold at a yard sale.  Cowboy songs and ghost stories were for "dorks."  He liked hunting, fishing, working on cars, and talking about girls.

I gamely agreed to go fishing with him, but my eyes glazed over in the discussions of cars and girls.  And his eyes glazed over when I talked about escaping to Saudi Arabia.

When we visited that Christmas, Buster was off with his grandparents, and I didn't see him again until the summer after ninth grade.  We sat in the living room with glasses of soda, and I talked about our new house and the prospect of high school, and he talked about getting his driver's license and the cute girls who hung out at the Blue Moon Drive In.

"I have a date later," he said.  "To go ice skating.  She could get a girl for you, and we could double."

I didn't want to date girls!  "Um...thanks, but I don't think we have time."

"Go ahead!" My Mom said.  "It will do you good to meet some girls."

That night I saw a light on in Cousin Buster's room, and opened the door to see him -- and his gigantic Kielbasa standing at attention.

So I went miniature golfing with Cousin Buster and two girls.

During high school, my visits to Indiana became sporadic.  I was old enough to stay home alone, and often I had other things to do, like the church conference in Switzerland, or a part-time job at the Carousel Snack Bar.

When we visited in 1978, the summer after high school, we spent an hour or so at the trailer in the dark woods.  Buster was still asleep, but he came out in his pajama bottoms, bleary-eyed, to say "Hi."

"I hear you're going to college," he said.

"Yeah.  Augustana, right in Rock Island."

"Four more years of school!  I couldn't stand it!  I hated school, except gym and auto shop."

"I hated auto shop! I have no idea what goes on under a car hood."

We stared at each other awkwardly.  ", do you have a girlfriend yet?"

The question made me angry.  It reminded me of the "What girl do you like" chants of the adults.    "No. I've never had a girlfriend," I said with cool precision, "And I don't want one."

He stared.  "Yeah, I like playing the field, too.  A new honey every night -- nothing wrong with that."

I never saw Buster again.

I heard about him from my parents: working at the auto garage, moving into his own place, buying a house, collecting vintage cars, going hunting and fishing, getting girlfriends -- "a new honey every night" -- but never marrying.

He died in 1996, when I was living in San Francisco.

I didn't go to his funeral.  It was too late -- he was a stranger.

The Sausage Sighting story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

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