Have you ever heard of Pick’s Disease? I never had until my cousin Charlie was diagnosed with it a few years ago. By the time there was a name for what was happening to him, he had become nearly completely disabled. His beautiful wife and wonderful parents could no longer care for him at home, as he required safekeeping 24 hours a day. There is no known prevention or treatment for Pick’s, and the disorder quickly and steadily becomes worse.
The last real conversation I remember having with him was at the collation after my grandfather was buried in the National Cemetery in Bourne (or our national golf course as I like to think of it.) He was telling us about the difficulty he was having with his memory, and with his speech. He said he knew the correct words for things but they would not come to him. Instead, the completely wrong word would come out. He would want to say Zamboni, for example, which was appropriate for someone who spent as much time on the ice as Charlie did, and out would come Kleenex. He was frustrated and frightened. That was in 2005. A few years later, at a party for my parents’ 50th anniversary, he had lost the ability to speak at all.
Charlie died on Thanksgiving morning. Thanksgiving was one of the only holidays that we did not spend together when we were kids, unlike Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. As we grew older there were graduations, weddings, christenings. And funerals.
Charlie, known at various times as little Charlie, or young Charles, or Charles the third, was the first kid I ever heard say “wicked pissa.” We thought it was a swear. And we were the city kids! We referred to him as the instigator. I am not saying he TOLD anyone to poke the eyes out of all the pictures in Nana and Grandad’s basement. Encouraged, perhaps. But the eyes were well and completely poked, and to this day no one will own up to the actual deed.
He loved cars, and Nana’s Bonneville was at the top of the list. I think he was too young to remember her mustang with racing stripes. Nana always let us grandchildren borrow the white Bonneville when we stayed with her in Harwich. I think each of us, separately, had driven that car over the bump near the end of Pleasant Street at an illegal rate of speed in order to become airborne.
I am so grateful to have been able to mark all my life’s milestones with my cousin Charlie. At my wedding in 1995, he took me aside and told me it was the best wedding he had ever attended. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. And as heartbroken as I am, I am looking forward to getting together with my cousins to celebrate Charlie’s too-short life. I wish he could be there.