Sometimes life takes you full circle back to someone you thought you'd never see again.
Long ago, when we were little girls running barefoot around our grandparents' house, trying to stay out of our mothers' permed hair, I used to call my cousin "Bad Linda." Not because she was bad. She was not.
But simply because I was a year older than she, and starved for any kind of status I could garner, needing, I suppose, to lord it over somebody, if only my favorite cousin.
Our mothers were sisters, two of nine, who were forever showing up at their parents' door, children in tow, having left or been left by a boyfriend or husband, thereafter to be known as "Good Old Uncle What's His Name, Never Liked the Son-of-a-Gun Anyhow."
So Linda and I spent much of our growing-up years sharing a bed, a bath, a biscuit and all the many bruisings of childhood, more like sisters than cousins.
Naturally, on occasion, we fought. It's what cousins/sisters do. But we never stayed mad for long. Except when she stole the Peeps from my Easter basket. She may swear it didn't happen. It did. I forgave her, but I did not forget it. Forgiving and forgetting are different things.
Then, when we were 10 or so, life put us on different paths. Linda's mother remarried and took her and her brother, Keith, to Michigan, so very far from North Carolina that it could've been the dark side of the moon.
We seldom saw each other after that, except on the rare occasion when she and her family would come to visit.
On one such visit, when we were barely teenagers, her mother took us out for ice cream. We were sitting in their station wagon, Linda, Keith and I, slurping milkshakes, when Keith made some nasty remark, the kind of thing kid brothers love to say. Linda was offended and said so. So Keith dumped his milkshake on her head.
That was bad. Then I laughed. So Linda socked me in the nose.
Their mother was so upset that she took them back to Michigan and visits became even rarer.
A year or so later, I heard that Linda had gotten married. Then I went off to college and ended up in California, married with three children and working for a newspaper. I barely had time to bathe, let alone keep in touch with distant cousins. Her life, no doubt, was as busy as mine.
I thought of her whenever I saw a milkshake and every Easter when I stole Peeps from my kids' baskets. I wondered: Did she ever think of me?
We saw each other briefly at a funeral for our youngest aunt. It was such a big gathering, so much talking and eating to do, that we barely hugged each other's necks and it was time to go.
Odd, isn't it, how someone could be such a part of your life, then disappear for years, leaving only memories of milkshakes and marshmallow chickens?
Imagine my surprise to get an email last week from a very nice man who said he'd been married for 30 years to my cousin.
"You should call her," he wrote, and gave me her number.
So I did. And we talked forever about everything and nothing, children, grandchildren, all the memories we share, looking back at where we'd been just as we had once looked forward to wherever life might take us.
She apologized for socking me in the nose. I apologized for laughing at how she'd looked with a milkshake on her head.
We didn't mention the Peeps. There was nothing to discuss, nothing to forgive. Feelings get hurt, but life is short and, besides, cousins are forever.
Easter came early for me this year. Bad Linda was good for my soul. And best of all? She can't get her hands on my Peeps.intelligencer
Sharon Randall is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).Diana Nelson Jones and "Walkabout" are off today.