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By The Californian
By Steve Flores
It was the mid-1960s and a hot August summer day in Bakersfield. My dad, Larry, was sitting in his well-worn lawn chair under the shade of the patio cover he, my brothers Willie, Andy, Ralph, Bobbie and I built. And although I am sure the wooden structure hanging over our heads would not have passed county code, it passed the shade code.
Along with my four brothers and three sisters, our neighborhood friends helped build the large doughboy pool in our backyard.
"If you help build it, you can come," was my dad's rule for anyone who wanted to eventually swim in what was the only pool in our neighborhood. The only exception, of course, was family. And because we come from a large family, and school was out for the summer, we always seemed to have a full house ... I mean full pool ... of neighbors, friends and cousins.
During all the summer mayhem, I noticed that after a hard day at work, my dad's usual position was in that lawn chair facing the doughboy. He would just sit there with a slight smile and small metal ice chest perfect for a six pack of his favorite adult cold beverage.
He quietly watched everyone trying to drown each other, playing Marco Polo or just splashing about. His voice rose when someone was getting in and forgot to wash their feet in the tube of clean water by the pool ladder or if the rough and tumble became too rough and the younger ones began to tumble.
I asked him one day why he never got into the pool.
He said, "I really like seeing cousins play together." At the time, his answer seemed odd to me and I paid no mind to it. It was at best a curious response that my brain clandestinely filed away for a future unknown reference.
My family is so large I am embarrassed to say I can't remember the names of all my first cousins. But I do know my cousins were an integral part of my childhood. I have very few memories that don't include them.
My dad's cousin revelation came back to me the day my now-adult twin sons, Sean and Aaron, began junior high school. I picked them up after their first day of being seventh-graders and asked them how they liked school.
They both had a startled look in their eyes and told me a group of boys came up to them on the playground and asked them who they "claim." I asked what they told them. They both said at the same time, "The Floreses." What they didn't know at the time was that the playground boys were asking to which street gang my sons belonged. I could just see the young wayward boys walking away from my sons wondering who this new "Flores" gang was in town.
I was proud of their answer and explained to my sons what those boys were really asking. My wife, Susie, and I knew most of their friends but out of curiosity, I asked my sons who were their best friends. Without hesitation they both said, "Our cousins."
I always knew the importance of family but shamefully had somehow taken for granted my deep connection to my cousins. I am proud my daughters, Nikki and Brenna, felt the same way as my sons. Their cousins have been a central part of their lives.
Last Saturday my nephew Rico married his beautiful bride, Maurina. My father's words came alive again. Yes, there were many guests but as I looked around the dance floor at the reception, all I could see were my smiling adult nephews and nieces dancing with each other ... cousins celebrating with cousins.
And I thought back to the doughboy pool in my dad's backyard on Watts Drive.
I can still see my dad in his wrinkled white JC Penny T-shirt , well-worn Levis and scuffed-up work shoes sitting in the shade. But this time my dad is tipping his tall can of Coors to me and saying, "I told you so."
You know dad, you were right.
I really do love seeing cousins play with cousins. What a blessing.
-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at email@example.com.