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A memory of a touch

It is, sometimes, the little things that mean the most.

That stick with you the longest.

That become the memories you cherish for a lifetime.

The Legal Genealogist has a ton of relatives, courtesy of a mother who was one of 12 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood and many of whom produced batches of kids of their own.

MonteI grew up knowing my aunts and uncles and cousins — the ones who were closest the best, but even the ones who lived far away visited from time to time.

Like the time around, oh, 1965 or so, when my mother’s older brother Monte came east from California and brought his family to spend some time with mine in New Jersey.

And, oh, did he ever have a case of bad timing…

You see, if there was anything in this world my older sister Diana wanted, it was a horse. We’d both learned to ride as kids. To me, it was fun. To Diana, it was nirvana. So she wanted a horse. She’d have happily traded all of her siblings for one. And, finally, her dream came true.

If memory serves me correctly, Tea was a quarter quarter horse. Meaning, as I understand it, that one of her grandparents was something other than an equine mutt. Now… keep in mind this is all a half-century ago. And it wasn’t my horse. So if I don’t remember all the details about the horse, I’m sure you’ll understand.

What I do remember is that she was lovely.

She was high-spirited.

And she was pregnant.

And therein lies the tale.

Sometime just about when Monte and his family arrived from California, Tea dropped her foal. A filly Diana promptly named Cocoa. A filly Tea promptly decided she was not in the least bit interested in mothering.

Now a horse is not exactly the kind of animal you can bring home, put in the kitchen and bottle feed. Somehow Tea had to be convinced that nursing her own offspring was the right thing to do.

And that meant spending hours out at the stable where Tea was kept, controlling the mother while the little one nursed.

Every two hours.

Twenty-four hours a day.

Day after day after day.

Until Tea finally accepted the foal and nursed her on her own.

Somehow, I ended up on the night shift in this feed-the-baby operation. Think about that. If the baby has to be fed every two hours and it takes 15 minutes to get the mother under control and…

You got it.

Total sleep deprivation.

My first real understanding of what parents of newborns go through.

But hey… I was young, certainly not more than 14, probably younger. I can’t be entirely sure when it was because I date it in my mind by a little brother in a high chair — and I had a lot of little brothers who spent a lot of time in high chairs. But I think it was one of the two youngest, and he was somewhere around a year old. I figure I was between 12 and 14.1

So I was fine for the first couple of days. Out to the stable at night, home during the day helping handle the houseful of kids between my own siblings and the visitors.

But by about the fourth or fifth day, I was really dragging.

To the point of total exhaustion.

I had started off towards my room to take what I considered to be a really really well-earned afternoon nap.

And was called back, by my mother, and told I had to feed the baby.

I remember vividly that I sat there in the kitchen, with my then-youngest brother in front of me in that highchair, spooning something into his mouth.

And I was crying.

Not sobbing, mind you. Not making a single sound. Just letting the tears roll down my cheeks because, damn-it-to-hell-and-back, I was totally exhausted, taking care of a horse that wasn’t mine all night and taking care of kids that weren’t mine all day.

Now Monte was not about to get involved in how my parents ran their household. He was a visitor, and house rules are house rules.

But he did something that day I will never ever forget.

He got up from the living room, where all the grownups were visiting.

He came into the kitchen.

He stood behind me.

Put his hands on my shoulders.

And just gently, ever so gently, massaged my shoulders while I cried.

The whole time I cried.

Until I finally pulled it together, and was done feeding the baby.

He never said a word. Never criticized those house rules.

But in that gentle touch he told me that he knew I was having a hard time… and he cared.

That gentle touch from a man who would have been 92 years old this week.2

A man we lost more than 20 years ago.3

A man I will never forget.

Because of a little thing that was one of those special little things that mean the most.

That stick with you the longest.

That become the memories you cherish for a lifetime.


  1. In fairness, I did email my sister to ask her, and didn’t get a response in time, so…
  2. “Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010,” database entry for Monte B. Cottrell; ( : accessed 20 Nov 2015).
  3. Ibid.
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