Honoring cousin Dick
The Legal Genealogist is in New Mexico today, to speak at the Wilson-Cobb History and Genealogy Library Annual Workshop in Roswell.
It will be a great day of genealogy, covering everything from methodology to DNA testing.
But the weekend overall will be bittersweet.
Because there is something missing from New Mexico this time around.
A hug I didn’t get from someone who wasn’t there to meet me this time when I arrived at the airport in Albuquerque.
A broad smile from a cousin met late in life and too soon lost.
A cousin named Richard Ivan Moore.
I’ve told Dick’s story before but it deserves to be told again on this particular weekend — a weekend where I think back to the way this story begins: with a question.
“Am I a keeper?” he asked.
The question came unexpectedly at the end of the visit where I’d gotten to know members of the extended family for the first time.
It came about when, after some effort, I finally located my mother’s cousin, Fred Gottlieb, the man who had walked her down the aisle at her marriage to my father. I wanted to meet him, and arranged to fly to Albuquerque.
But before that trip, 10 years ago, in April 2004, Fred put me in touch with his nephew, my second cousin Dick Moore and Dick’s wife, Julie. “They’re interested in that family history stuff,” Fred said.
And so they were.
Dick and Julie met me at the Albuquerque airport. Opened their home to me. Showed me around all the places within a wide driving radius of the city that played a role in the lives of that branch of the family.
They played chauffeur for me on daily visits with Fred, including the one on the day that the question of relatives as keepers first came up.
Fred just didn’t get it. Could not for the life of him wrap his head around the idea of wanting to get to know distant family members … or what he thought of as ancient family history.
I remember trying to explain. “Some people collect coins,” I remember telling him. “Others collect stamps. Me? I collect relatives.”
Then Fred’s face grew serious. “What do you do,” he asked, “when you find one that … well … you’d rather not have?”
I remember smiling in return. “Throw him back,” I said, “and find another one who’s a keeper.”
Dick and Julie and I went together down to Lovington, in Lea County, where Dick’s and my great grandfather Martin Gilbert Cottrell was buried and where, for some reason neither of us could articulate at the time, we just had to be photographed — as you see here today — together behind the tombstone.
And we talked. We talked and talked and talked.
About life. About love. About family.
About difficult fathers. About struggles we had faced. About our successes. About our failures.
Even… when we lost Fred less than a year later … even about death.
But mostly about our common heritage. The ancestors we share. Cottrells. Bakers. Buchanans.
About the history we have in common. A Revolutionary War patriot. A preacher. A scoundrel or two.
About what we owe to the past.
About what we hoped for, for the future.
In all too short a time, I had to say goodbye, back at the Albuquerque airport.
And, as he gave me one last bear hug, he asked if he could ask me a question.
“Am I a keeper?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said then. “Oh yes.”
Gentle. Funny. Smart. Loving. Kind. An amazing husband, father, grandfather.
A cousin. And then a friend. How could he be anything but a keeper?
We managed to get together a few more times. We shared emails and research and even DNA results. We talked about how we’d like to get together more.
But life has a way of keeping us from the keepers.
Distance, schedules, commitments all conspire to deny us the time we would so like to have with the people we would most like to spend it with.
And now it is too late.
On Thursday, 21 August 2014, Richard Ivan “Dick” Moore lost his battle with cancer.
My life was richer, deeper, more joyful because I knew my cousin Dick.
But some of the light of my family has gone out.
And we are left behind to try to keep the keeper’s memory alive.
And, tomorrow, Julie and I will go to the campus of the New Mexico Military Institute where Dick was a member of the Class of 1957. We will gaze on the columbarium there where his ashes are interred.
And I will tell him that I hope he has found peace in his rest.
And how much we all loved him.
And how very much he was a keeper.