Every little girl wishes for a sister as a best friend. Since my own only sibling didn’t come along until I was nearly six years old — making for quite a bit of an age gap — I became close with my mom’s only niece, Rebecca, from a very early age.Just 17 months my senior, but always my junior in height and weight — she’s a wee thing, that Rebecca, still only 4’11 AND A FOURTH, she always manages to add — we grew up two peas in a pod. She lived five hours by car in Memphis, but luckily, I had one thing down the street from me that she didn’t, which brought her to my house quite frequently: my grandparents.
From the time we could barely walk, we adopted nicknames for each other based on our lack of diction and inability to pronounce each other’s real names. For the rest of our lives, I would be Kiki to her (derived from the first sound of my name), and she Coco to me (stemming from her last syllable).
I would see Rebecca, and her twin Andrew and older brother John, several times a year: holidays, family reunions in Paris and Lake Loudoun, Tennessee, annual vacations to Gulf Shores, Disney World, and Destin. So it never really fazed me that I didn’t (at the time) have siblings of my own. They were my brothers and sisters, only even better: sans all the biting and hair pulling.
Though, don’t let me fool you: Being at least twice her size, Andrew, John and I picked on Rebecca at every given chance. Lucky for her, she always had our grandmother Dede on her side — even when we didn’t actually do anything to her, she’d tattle and we’d be punished. One time in particular, I remember us chasing her down the beach in Alabama, writing “Reba Sheba” — a nickname she hated with a passion — in the sand. We got a good talking to by Dede when we returned to the condo. But did we learn our lesson? Likely not.
To Rebecca’s delight, Kari, my little sis, came along a few years later, and thus, absorbed all of the teasing — or at least a good portion of it — until Kari herself outweighed Rebecca (at probably just three years old or so). Rebecca and I only grew closer with age, but unfortunately, saw each other less and less as getting older meant more obligations and less time to make the cross-state journey to visit one another.
Many moons ago, when Rebecca was 16 (come September, she’ll be receiving the senior citizen discount when she turns 27), she started dating another John — our family has a serious problem when it comes to contriving names; nearly every male on that side of the tree bears some form of the name John — whom she would eventually marry nine long years later. I stood up at the altar with her that chilly December evening in 2004 as her bridesmaid, while the two exchanged vows. John was the perfect addition to our family: fun, sarcastic, musical, and accepting of the quirkiness (ahem, Andrew) of the whole Housholder clan.
Although she frequently told me over the phone that there would be no little Cocos running around anytime soon, I wasn’t all that surprised when Rebecca called me last fall to share the news that she was pregnant. (While they weren’t necessarily trying, at the same time, they weren’t not trying.)
In the past three years, I’ve only seen Rebecca three times, and never for more than a few hours, but she kindly drove her bloated belly down to Tullahoma to see me in April; it would be the last time we’d hang out without the title of “mother” decorating her repertoire of accolades.
At 1:50pm on June 19, 2008 in Memphis, Tennessee, McKayla Yates Rawlinson came into the world, weighing in at 5 pounds and 9 ounces and spanning 18 1/4 inches. She kind of resembles a gremlin in this picture, but she’s beautiful nonetheless (and keeping in the tradition of our family, popped out sporting a full head of hair…it’s just a matter of days until she adopts a full-on fro).
While she’s not my niece per se, I still feel like a proud aunt and will treat her like so. After all, Rebecca was always much more a sister than a cousin. Cousin denotes someone you see maybe every other year at funerals or extended family gatherings and exchange awkward pleasantries, not someone with whom you share an entire encyclopedia set of memories.
Your (Fun) Aunt Kristin
P.S. And for good measure (and to ensure she murders me after reading this), your momma at her finest: