IT WAS PROBABLY SOMETIME LATE February, early March, not warm but not especially cold either. Southeastern coastal Georgia in in the 1960s had its fair share of cold snaps. There were several years when our outdoor spigot burst, giving our side yard the illustrious appearance of an Ice Capades float, or a few days’ glory beholding God’s own rippling ice sculpture as they water sprayed out during the night unbeknownst to the tiny sleepers all huddled together inside in sleeping bags around a stinky kerosene heater. Eventually, Pops installed a huge gas heater in one room that did a decent job of heating the house in the dead of winter, as long as he could afford to keep the 500-lb natural gas tank filled. The Clyde Nix imperative of “keeping them coming” at the Crow’s Nest, the Pool Hall, two of his favorite local drinking holes, and anywhere else on the road he could find a stool, frequently interfered with his ability to keep in line with monthly payments and IOUs of many kinds. Six kids and a wife weren’t so much a burden to the man as a stone cold distraction. Some would say Clyde Nix was a natural born alcoholic. Put another way, something he might say himself, he was just a man who was simply born to drink when he wasn’t on the high seas.
Mother drove me out to the Ridge. A hearty Aunt Ruth greeted me at the door, and in her usual loud but always welcoming way, she took my thin windbreaker, and offered me a glass of iced tea which I accepted. Fortunately it wasn’t supersaturated with sugar crystals like so much Southern iced tea used to be fixed. I drink my tea unsweetened to this day as a result of those early bouts with sugar-tanked home sweet home red clay iced teas.
THEY WERE DIZYGOTIC OR FRATERNAL TWINS. They were my cousins, just three months older than me. But to a sheltered townboy like myself, they were giants. Their names were Bob and Kenan. It seemed to me their names were always said together, and it was always Bob and Kenan, never Kenan and Bob, although I am not sure who was born first, and had always figured Bob and Kenan just sounded better and rolled easier off the tongue than Kenan and Bob. Together their names rolled off my tongue as if they were a single ent ity like peanut butter and jelly, cops and robbers, life and death. Not that they were ever anything close to being identicalsthey weren’t, but brothers they were, and brothers they are. Uncle Robert was my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Robert their father. I think this made them my second cousins, as they were easily understood as my mother’s first cousins although she obviously was much older than them. I never could keep all that “once removed” second, third, and fourth cousin stuff straight in my head, so I prefer to leave that to the genealogy purists. Bob and Kenan did have a sister, Robin, a couple of years older and another named Ethel, closer to my Aunt Maude’s age, who is my mother’s youngest sister, twelve years her junior, and nine years my senior, but I barely knew the rather smart and attractive Ethel (as I recall) or the eldest, a half-brother whose name I cannot remember, although it might be Conrad, yes, I think his name was Conrad. Second cousins or not, I admired Bob and Kenan as entities of strength and daring, replete with skills and aptitudes I’d never have, and I still admire them, but growing up, things were sometimes a bit awesome and sometimes a bit awkward.