My Cousin Diane

<originally published on Medium on 25 June 2019>

So I see a link to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QjCenvI_zU in my twitter feed, and my first reaction was…whaaa? Because for most people, Diane Francis is a redonkulously smart, talented business writer/genius. And she is all that. She is honest to god smart. She has achieved…hell, I can’t list them all here. It’d take a year. She is all that and a bag of chips.

But, she is also my cousin. It’s a weird sort of cousin thing, because she’s like…well, the number is unimportant. She is older enough than me to have been an adult when I was two and breaking out of my parents’ apartment in Chicago. Her children are far closer to my age than she is. As she said to me once, “We’re from two different families, so it’s never going to be like that.” Some folks think that may be mean, but it wasn’t. It was honest and direct, and that is Diane. She’s not a mean person, at least never to me. But she is blunt. She is, in the words of my mother, who was so much like Diane…a tough old broad.

I can safely say that including the military, out of the top five or so ass-reamings I have had, Diane was the source of at least two, both well-earned. She is also the source of some, if not most of the very few purely happy moments I had in the first oh, thirty or so years of my life, most of them during one summer spent at her house in Mississauga. She was writing her first book at the time, so most of the day was spent with me finding shit to do to amuse myself, because even a hyper little fiend like me understood the danger of interrupting Diane’s writing. (Y’all, that woman’s death glare is real.) But most days, at lunch, we’d go to McDonald’s, me and her, and I would marvel at the difference in Canadian signage, and we’d get a Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and a coke, then go back to her house where she’d write.

Her kids, Eric and Julie were going to some hippy summer camp, (Seriously, the counselors had counselor names like “Taiwanee”. SO HIPPY. And now I have that stupid “Titanic” song going through my head. Sigh) that I only went to a few times. The McDonald’s trips were…special. Like here’s this amazingly cool person who drove stick and could talk about cars and sports and everything and who taught me the trick of putting my fries in the upper half of the Quarter-Pounder box and all this other stuff, who just knew everything…and she was spending time out of her day with my ass, which at the time, Did Not Happen.

And yet it did. A lot. I also learned, and still remember the words to “O Canada”. Her and her ex-husband had these weekend parties, that us kids were Not A Part Of, wherein we (me, Eric, and Julie) would know were over because all the adults would start singing “Bye-Bye Blackbird”. For some reason, I couldn’t sleep during the parties. (Well not for some reason. Adults Drinking = Danger in my world, so I couldn’t sleep. Diane et al were the first people to counter that reality.) I would lay there, listening to the noise of people having fun, a little annoyed that there was so much happy noise, and listening to her laugh. I key in on how people laugh, it’s a thing with me. Diane has the laugh of someone who really enjoys it and does it a lot. Bit raspy, a lot of air behind it. They had a collie, named Robbie, as I recall, who was a good dog. Really cool to hang out with. They had a split-level house, and to this day, I can probably describe it in a stupid amount of detail.

They had a Lincoln Continental that I made her crazy with because it had electric seats and I would not stop fucking with the seat controls, because a) my parents hadn’t had a car in years at that point, and HOLY SHIT THE SEAT MOVED UP AND DOWN!! They also had a little Mazda hatchback with a rotary engine that was so cool to buzz around in. Diane taught me that if the oil light in the Mazda came on, you stopped then and there, so every time I rode in it, I was watching for that light, because if Diane said it was important, it was. There is also a very clear memory of her dancing around the living room to “I Was Made For Loving You” by Kiss. I’d brought my records with me. Why? Maybe because they were my only real posessions, so I wasn’t leaving them for months. Either way, that happened. It was pretty funny at the time, and even more funny now.

When her book was published and I got a free copy, I read it. Every page. Didn’t understand a lot of it, but I’d been around when she wrote it, so by fucking god, I was going to read it. It seemed…right, you know? Many years later, when I finally wrote my one solo book, I sent her a copy and she said nice things about it. A lot of people did, but Diane is blunt, and honest, so her saying nice things…that meant a lot.

There have been some odd, random visits over the years, coincidental mostly. Like she said, we’re from two different families. There’s not a lot of shared experiences there. But what there are, are very precious. Including a late-night phone call, wherein my family was being…itself, and I was trying to manage it because that’s what teenagers do when their families are falling apart, or falling more apart, and I was at the end of my rope, so I call her because she’s the only adult on the planet who would know what to tell me and she said “You can’t fix this. This is their problem. They have to fix it. You’re stuck with it and that is awful, but one day, you won’t be. Just put your head down and get through it.”

That literally changed my life. Didn’t know it at the time, and it took a lonnnnng time to dope out the depth of what she was saying, but that right there gave me hope, gave me a reason to believe that one day, I’d be in a different place, and if I was careful, and did some work, it’d even be a better place. So far, so good.

So watching that video, it made me realize that time keeps moving and one day, I won’t be able to say this to her (as it were, yes, I know Medium, but this will work) as a person any more, but as someone who was a person, and I don’t feel like waiting that long. (Although, given how long-lived our mothers’ side of the family tends to be, she could hit a hundred and I’d not be even a bit surprised. My mom’s family is stupidly long-lived.)

Diane,

Thank you. Thank you for being who you are, for showing me how things can work, even if they don’t always. Thank you for Quarter-Pounders and fries in the lid and that seagull shit is easily washed away, and how the metric system is not some weird thing, and that writing and thinking and “Bye-Bye Blackbird” are pretty damned cool and that being blunt doesn’t mean you have to be mean, that you can be kind, loving, and honest, and I really am sorry about the obsession with the seat controls in the Lincoln, and even though we did grow up in different families, and it is kind of different, I love you, and I am very, very glad you’re my cousin. You helped me when I desperately needed it, and I will never forget any of it.