On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I remember the date fondly because my cousin Tommy made me watch it. I was six years old and was more concerned with enjoying the freedom of summer's warmth. My cousin Tommy was five years older and much more aware. Tommy told me we needed to watch the blast off that morning as it was historically significant. I complied with my older cousin's wishes as he hung the moon for me. I did not know what he meant then, but forty-five years later I marvel at my dead cousin's wisdom. Tommy was like an older brother when I was younger, but we drifted apart as we grew up and apart.
Tommy came to live with us that summer at the Woodholme Circle house. The Woodholme Circle house was my first house, it was where I was born and we lived there from 1962 until 1971. My Dad built the brick house in 1955. Tommy's folks were having problems, so their four kids were farmed out to the various relatives. I'm not sure where Tommy's three sisters went to live. Tommy's younger sister Vicky probably went to stay with my Aunt Vera, but I'm not sure about the two older sisters.
Tommy's Father was my Uncle Tom, who was my Mom's older brother. Mom's older sister was my Aunt Vera. Mom's remaining siblings were my deceased Aunt Catherine, who I never met. The remaining sibling was Mom's younger brother, Uncle Paul. Uncle Paul was in the Army, so he could not have hosted any kids. Tommy was pure Rowan with his ruddy complexion, red hair, and freckles. The Rowans were stereotypical Irish in their earnest looks, temper, and passion.
Tommy and I were both Christmas babies. Having your birthday on Christmas can be both a blessing and a curse. Certainly you hear from everybody at least once, "Wow, that must suck having your birthday on Christmas." I did not mind because it was cool to celebrate with my cousin Tommy at our Aunt Vera's house. Aunt Vera did not have boys, so she went out of her way to always have a shared birthday cake and celebration for us around the holidays when we were little. I did not have any brothers ,so having an older male cousin seemed pretty close. Tommy's family lived on the far side of Baltimore in a row house, so we did not get to see them all that much. I remember going there once or twice. On one of the trips, Tommy gave me some of his Hot Wheels cars.
Tommy slept on our screened in porch right outside of my bedroom window, so we'd talk before going to sleep. I'd ask him a million questions that you could not ask your parents, but you could ask an older cousin. My folks loved Tommy and had watched him before, but never for a whole summer. My parents used to tell the story of having Tommy stay over and needed a haircut. He got the hair cut and wanted to tell them about it while grocery shopping. Tommy kept repeating that the cutter man cut his hair. My folks thought he was saying colored man and kept trying to correct him.
Tommy was a tough kid and was not afraid of anything. There was a neighborhood bully who recently moved into the neighborhood from Texas. The kid pushed everyone around with his big kid redneck attitude making fun of everyone. The bully would single out any lisp, deformity, or embarrassing personal feature. Tommy and I walked to the end of our circle and there was the bully picking on some younger kids. Tommy went over and asked what was going on. The bully told Tommy to mind his own business as Tommy made it his business. The bully swung at Tommy in a sneak sucker punch. Tommy took the punch and punched back much harder as the bully went down with a bloody nose. The bully ran inside crying and we kept walking like it never happened. I had instant credibility in the neighborhood over my cousin's actions. We never spoke of it again.
Tommy was a fighter and had been in trouble for it before. He was jumped coming home by several boys. He fought against the superior numbers, but was hurt over the assault. We dropped him off at his parents at the end of summer so he could testify in court against the boys. I saw Tommy two more times after that summer. My family and I ran into him and some of his friends at the beach five or six years later. He was under the influence of liquor or drugs as he got my parents names mixed up with his bloodshot watery eyes and slurred speech.
The next time, I ran into Tommy would be my last. I ran into him at his Mother's house while swimming in their pool. I was fourteen, Tommy was nineteen. He came by to pick something up and appeared to be in a hurry. Tommy walked by without saying hello, not recognizing who I was. It was a year later in 78" that my Mother told me Tommy killed himself with a self induced shot to the heart. My twenty year old cousin killed himself over a girlfriend who would not marry him. I did not go to the funeral as I was full of rage over my favorite cousin taking his life. This caused some discord with my Mother, but my Father understood as they went to the funeral service. Mom came home angry that Tommy's girlfriend wore a black halter top to the funeral, so we shared our grief by badmouthing the girlfriend.