Many of you already know that Venus (a.k.a. V, as in Between the Gutter and the Stars) is my first cousin. This post is about her, but first some background:
My grandmother and grandfather married each other shortly after the birth of Venus’ mother, Beth, whose own mother died shortly after childbirth. Beth was the youngest of my grandfather’s children. My mother’s father died when my mom was very young, leaving grandma with 3 children of her own – my mother being the oldest. Beth’s dad and my mom’s mom married in the late forties, and combined families with their 6 children – a post WWII version of the Brady bunch. Mother is the oldest and Beth is the youngest of the six. I subsequently became the first grandchild and since Beth is only 10 years older than me, she became my babysitter. I worshipped my aunt Beth because she was totally cool. She was the one who introduced me to American Bandstand and shopping and hiking in the woods. She took me to her private spot on the creek, a place I thought was unknown to the rest of the world. I lived for the times when my mother would herd me and my brothers into the station wagon to drive out to the farm to hang out. This happened pretty often because we only lived about 8 miles away. When I was about 6 or 8 years old, things started to change. Beth was, more often than not, chatting on the phone or out on a date when we’d come over – perfectly normal for a teenage girl – but it made me sad that my idol was no longer interested in having her kid neice hanging around.
Beth married her first husband right after high school and promptly moved to Rhode Island, where her husband was to be stationed, and my favorite aunt was gone from our lives for awhile. When Beth announced the happy news that she was pregnant, we were all ecstatic and threw her a baby shower from afar. We brought our presents to my granparent’s farm, wrapped them as a group and sent them off to Rhode Island. The baby was born in February. “She’s named the baby Venus.” My grandmother said, shaking her head in disappointment. “Venus? Are you sure?” everyone asked. “Looks like it.” grandmother answered, then wondered aloud, “Where on eath did she get a name like that?” It was 1967, I was ten years old and an aspiring hippie, and the name Venus sounded perfect to me. Once again, Beth had proved her general coolness to me.
Now, if you haven’t figured it out already, Venus and some of my other 12 first cousins are not actually blood relatives to me. We are step cousins, but don’t really think about it that way. Our families have been firmly cemented together for so long, we don’t separate ourselves out along bloodlines. Venus and I are ten years apart in age -the same as myself and my aunt Beth – which means that in my teens, I was hired by my aunt to babysit Venus and her younger brother. Being a lacadasical, music-obsessed babysitter, I paid no attention to my charges but instead spent most of my time spinning the Rightous Brothers and other records on my aunt’s turntable while the kids did God knows what. I was not my Aunt Beth, that’s for sure.
So I don’t confess to remembering much about Venus during her wee childhood.
When I was 18 and Venus was 8, I moved 3 states away and began my bohemian adulthood. Venus grew up and married (not sure how old you were V, 18?), and before I knew it she had given birth to three children, all boys, with her first husband. “I’ve spent my entire adult life pregnant!” I remember her saying once. And I imagine that’s exactly how it seemed to her.
Fast forward to the late nineties, when V and I went through back-to-back divorces. The demise of V’s marriage was a shocker to the family, with many thinking Venus was plumb off her rocker to unload such a prince of a guy! My divorce was not much of a surprise since I’d already ended my previous TWO marriages in divorce. That was pretty much par for the course for me – but for V – well, nobody suspected this would ever happen to her. It was around this time that V and I started sharing things with each other about the secret lives inside our marriages and how bad things had gotten. We realized we not only had very similar experiences in our marriages, but we had a lot more in common with each other than either of us realized. We’ve surpassed our cousin relationship and now have a real friendship – once ditching another cousin’s baby shower mid-stream to go to a movie matinee together just because we wanted to. Two grown women tossing out poorly-made excuses to leave, then running away giggling – and not the least bit sorry we probably stirred up a shitstorm of gossip back at the house.
Here’s something you may not know about Venus (she’s not a braggart or one to draw attention to herself): She’s the lead singer in a country band that only does sad songs, and she’s good. Damn good. This shy little introvert can get up and belt them out in front of a crowd of people like she’s been doing it her entire life.
Venus with The Cass County Lamenters (husband Troy on the far left)
Here’s another thing: Venus finally met and married the love of her life, Troy – the total antithesis of her first husband. Troy is wonderful and he treats our goddess like gold. He is wonderful with her children. He’s kind and gentle and damn good looking. He plays guitar in her band, and in his own band (Live from Sturgis! August 11th! Federation of Horsepower!), and we love him to death.
Venus has become my coolness idol (you didn’t know that, did you?) and is living the life she deserves now. V, I just want you to know how much I cherish our relationship. Above and beyond all 12 of the other cousins, you and I connect in a way that is special and meaningful. And although you used to hate you name, (when she was a teenager she shunned her name because “only one other word in the English language rhymes with it”), I’ve seen you embrace it with a new intensity these days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, your mother knew exactly what she was doing when she named you. You truly are our Venus. Love you, spirit cousin!