Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints Day is my cousin's day

In New Orleans today, Catholics are in the cemeteries decorating graves in honor of All Saints Day.  As a child, one of my favorite religious books was "Lives of the Saints," that had beautifully rendered (like the image above) portraits of the best known saints across from a single page that told her/his story.  It's from that book that I picked my own confirmation name (from Dennis HayesSaint Teresa of the little flowers).   From that book and other biographies I read came a love of storytelling and aspirations to be good.  But November 1 had less a religious connotation than a reminder of my mysterious older cousin Dennis, who shares his birthday with the feast of All Saints Day.

Dennis is a well known playwright, director and actor today, but in those days he was merely older than my cousin Kathleen and myself.  We rarely saw him, especially after he went off to college.  He was different, and made a name for himself at an early age in the theatre.  He took on my Aunt Teresa one summer while doing a theatre residency at the University of Iowa, refusing to shave his beard in order to be an usher in his cousin's wedding.  You can guess how that one came out.

Dennis' father (Jim) and his mother (Alice) were my godparents.  His mother and mine were close friends their whole lives, and reconnected us years later on the East Coast.   When we moved to upstate New York, Dennis had relocated in Ottawa, and we got to know him and his children through summer visits back and forth that sometimes included our mothers.  I admire all of his children,  and think of them as friends as well as relatives.   Though we are flung about in various parts of the work, we manage to keep track of one another and to meet usually every five years at the Hayes Family Reunion in Iowa City, hosted by Dennis' brother, Jim.

So that's the story of November 1, a time of year when we know for sure that winter is coming soon, when the light is slow to arrive and quick to depart each afternoon.  Stories are what Dennis can tell, and stories are what bind us together, with more than enough light to go round.  Happy birthday, Dennis!

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