≡ Menu

My Cousin, My Friend

By Shirley Hershey Showalter

SShowalterFSPic(she'sbabyonright)My cousin Mary Ann, nine months my senior, was also my best friend. She and I together were the two oldest cousins of what would later become a sea of twenty but was already a little pond of about ten.

Mary Ann and I had a great time exploring my new bedroom in the southwest corner of the old Home Place farmhouse, after my parents bought the place from my grandparents.

I had a room to myself, as did my younger brother Henry, and so did our parents. Sisters Sue and Doris had twin beds in the fourth bedroom. Sister Linda had not yet been born. Mary Ann and I could explore space together unhindered by younger children, which is exactly what teenage girls want.

We investigated the familiar, yet strangely new, house. Our eyes were opened because now, instead of being at Grandpa’s house, we were at “my” house, and what a house it was! The walls of colonial-era houses, especially stone houses like ours, bore the weight of the whole structure. This meant that every windowsill was two feet thick—a great place to curl up with a book and an amplifier of summer breezes.

Mary Ann and I took the tour of the house that our family would give often, pointing out the framed original sheepskin deed on the wall – and the signatures of William Penn’s three sons.

Outside, the four stately trees stood like sentries, two oaks in the back and two sycamores in the front. Not only did they provide a canopy of shade, the oaks also rained down acorns in the fall, when the sycamores also gave up their bark.

Mary Ann loved to go for walks along country roads, so she suggested the two of us explore the territory surrounding the farm that was now my home. Even though Mary Ann knew the Home Place almost as well as I did, my rediscovery of it with her led to a shivery sense of adventure. I now had a second pair of eyes, a new sensibility, to magnify the thrill of mutual reinvention of familiar places.

We walked out the Dutch doors and past the sycamore trees, going by the horse heads made of lead and painted silver to match the fence, the very same horse heads used as hitching posts when the Home Place was Jacob Hoober’s Tavern in the 1700s.

Both of us knew that Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf had preached in that tavern in 1742. Both of us had heard stories about him. The Hershey family was proud of the fact that this house predated the Revolutionary War and was the site of a religious conversion that led to the establishment of the town of Lititz as a Moravian community. As Mary Ann and I headed across the porch to the road, we paused to read again the historical bronze plaque on the front of the house.

We started on Newport Road and then meandered up Snyder Hill Road, named for our Snyder ancestors, talking about our usual girl subjects: which boys were cute and what was happening in school.

We were on our way home when my father came roaring up the road in the car, slammed on the brakes, and shouted to us to get inside. Stunned and confused, heads bowed, we crawled in.

“I never want you to go out on these roads again without getting permission,” he yelled. “You’re lucky no one else tried to pick you up before I did.” I was sorry Mary Ann had to witness his anger; I was sure that her own mild-mannered father would never talk the way mine just did.

I never knew why Daddy was so furious—I had yet to learn the ways of the world—but at least I had a cousin who could share my fear and indignation. I had a friend for life.

Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, grew up on a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, dairy farm and went on to become a professor and then college president and foundation executive. Find her at her website, her Facebook page, and on Twitter.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Laurie Buchanan February 6, 2014, 7:59 pm

    Shirley – What a wonderful gift to have a cousin so close in age, and to be friends by choice, as well. For your dad to have shouted the way he did means that Mary Ann wasn’t “company.” Rather, so close a friend/family, he could be himself and “let ‘er rip!”

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter February 7, 2014, 10:34 am

      Thanks, Laurie, for this comment and insight. Daddy did treat Mary Ann like family, a sure sign of her inclusion as friend also. Another person reading this story told me that he remembers a news story from that era about a girl who was abducted while walking country roads. I’m sure there was a lot going on in my father’s mind that day beyond my understanding. That’s the mystery of memoir.

      • Miranda Beverly-Whittemore February 7, 2014, 11:14 am

        You can always tell how close someone is by whether you’re willing to lose your patience in front of them…

  • Carol Wood February 6, 2014, 9:09 pm

    What a lovely story of your childhood with Mary Ann.. The back of her house faces my house. She is a beautiful person and good friend…I am blessed to know her and Don.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter February 7, 2014, 10:38 am

      Carol, how nice to meet you. Thanks for the comment. Hope you and Mary Ann are having lots of age-appropriate adventures. If we lived close together, maybe we’d all go on a convertible ride. But that’s another story from the book!

      • Miranda Beverly-Whittemore February 7, 2014, 11:15 am

        Oh, a convertible ride? I can just imagine you, Shirley, wind blowing in your hair as you tear down those country roads…

        • Kelly DuMar February 8, 2014, 6:59 am

          Shirley, I love these lines – “led to a shivery sense of adventure. I now had a second pair of eyes, a new sensibility, to magnify the thrill of mutual reinvention of familiar places,” and we never know where our adventures will lead us. Yours is a poignant example, I think, of when an adventure leads to an entirely unexpected experience – being scolded for doing something you thought was innocent, and not yet understanding why it isn’t. Thanks so much for sharing this story!

          • Miranda Beverly-Whittemore February 8, 2014, 10:52 pm

            I think you’ve put your finger on something wonderful about friendship in pointing out that line, Kelly- the magnification that comes with shared vision.

          • Shirley Hershey Showalter February 9, 2014, 6:50 pm

            Thanks, Kelly. You named the situation exactly! Thanks for being such an insightful reader.

            Isn’t it great fun to see what Miranda is doing here? Are you going to offer a friendstory of your own? I hope so.

  • Sherrey Meyer February 9, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Shirley, this vignette evoked memories for me the first time I read, and now reading it here the same has happened. I had three cousins with whom I was close, my mother’s sister’s girls. We grew up together, but now we live on opposite ends of the country. Recently, I’ve been in greater contact with two of them, and we’ve talked memories and shared. I count them the sisters I never had in a way. Thanks for sharing this relationship with your cousin again.

    Miranda, thanks for including Shirley in your Friend Stories.

  • Shirley Hershey Showalter February 12, 2014, 11:35 am

    Sherrey, I wrote a reply to your comment that apparently got lost in cyberspace from Mexico last week. So let me say now that you are lucky to have three cousins close to your age. Like other friendships, cousinfriends come and go in our lives as we make decisions about what to do and where to live. In this blessed time you and I share of “retirement,” we can choose, whether through technology or travel to reconnect with old friends. Hope you have some more great cousin adventures! Thanks for commenting. And do take advantage of Miranda’s story platform here. I know you are a good story teller.

Leave a Comment