When I was a child, my family would often cross the Connecticut River and visit the Douvilles in Bloomfield. My parents, Kay and Jim, would visit with Peg and Larry Douville and my brother Bruce and I would head over to the room where our cousins Larry and Stevie Douville hung out. Uncle Larry was very good with tools and had fashioned much of the house in stained knotty pine, including the boy's room where they had a trundle style bed arrangement - Little Larry's bunk on top and Steve's at a ninety degree angle on the bottom.
That's how I got to know my cousin Larry Douville. He was 4 years older than I was, but loved playing with us younger guys anyway. Larry was lean and athletic, and had thick black hair; quite different than my own much lighter red hair. In turn, Steve is a year younger than I, so he was a natural companion for my younger brother Bruce.
No matter. We'd get to the cousins room, play games and talk well into the evening. If the lights were turned off, that didn't matter -- the talk would continue. The pattern continued for years. Larry and Steve were our favorite cousins, and it didn't hurt that we were close in age and lived just 40 minutes away. As we got older, we had sleepovers and sometimes would even stay for a week during vacation times. Here's a picture of Larry and I playing in a backyard by a sandbox.
I got to know the other kids in the neighborhood. We used to play football in the back yard of the Otis's, who lived across the street.
Larry was always happy to see me and had a great open smile. I was the studious type back home, but here, I was just one of the gang and got to indulge my love of backyard sports. Since Larry was a few years older, I looked up to him and learned a lot about what his age group was doing. He and his brother Steve took piano lessons, but I remember going downstairs and listening to Larry's collection of 45s. Rock and roll hadn't yet experienced the British invasion, so the music was from groups like the Four Seasons, doo wop musicians and maybe a bit of Elvis and Chuck Berry.
In the summer, the Douvilles would spend several weeks at a campsite on Otis Reservoir. They'd set up several tents, take motor boat rides on the water and the Douvilles -- excepting lighter skinned Aunt Peg -- would get very tanned. This was quite exotic for my brother Bruce and I -- my dad was a golfer and didn't care for camping at all. Larry and Steve would invite us into the water and we'd all swim for quite a while -- though I had to be careful of sunburn on my light skin. Afterwards, we'd eat grilled burgers and hot dogs and the food never seemed to taste better.
A few years later, times were changing and Larry and I would talk about the Vietnam war. Larry wasn't a great student, but managed to take college courses long enough to stay out of the draft for a few years. Around this time, he introduced me to beer and I remember parties where his parents were out and we'd have a few. I didn't really like the beer that much as a seventeen year old, but Larry wanted to make sure I was having fun and I'd go along with it.
After I entered college, Larry and I both faced the draft. The government instituted a lottery system and Larry got a high number -- good news, since his college days were over. I got a lower number, but still had a college deferment as long as I stayed in school. We were both amazed when President Nixon ended the draft and the war petered out.
Around this time, Larry and I grew apart. I got my degree and started a career. Larry mostly liked to hang out, drink beers and wasn't too good at holding a job. Nonetheless, he always had a smile on his face wherever I saw him. Larry was truly a friendly guy and didn't sweat the small stuff.
Larry got married -- I think a couple of times -- but it never seemed to last very long. In the Eighties, his parents moved to Florida. Larry still needed guidance and he didn't get much from the long distance. His Dad, Uncle Larry, died tragically young, just a couple of years into his Florida retirement. Aunt Peg stayed down in Florida and eventually Larry and his younger brother Dennis also moved down. Steve stayed in Connecticut and raised a family.
I think I only saw Larry once or twice after that. He came up for one or two of our family reunions. He still had that great Elvis style shock of black hair and now had a matching black beard. And the smile -- yeah, very much still in place. His life hadn't turned out so well, but Larry wasn't one to complain and he was still the same very friendly cousin I'd admired so much growing up.
Last week, his brother Steve called me up. It's been a tough couple of months in the extended family and I'd seen Steve at my Mom's funeral a couple of months back. Steve told me that Larry had passed. He hadn't been in very good health for years and didn't take very good care of himself. But Steve said he'd been content. He liked to watch TV and hang out. Sometimes the alcohol had taken over, but it was just part of the picture. To the end, Larry liked to be happy and not sweat the small stuff.
Larry was the oldest of my 21 cousins. He and I were the oldest, so that set us apart in some way and also helped us bond. We were very different, but always liked each other. Now, I look back and remember the good times, the roughhousing, the late nights whispering in that corner room and the backyard sports and other games. Larry never had a big plan for his life, but he liked people and people liked him. Two years ago, we had a large family reunion in Rhinebeck, New York. It was the first one we'd had in over ten years. Like the earlier ones Larry had attended, there was lots of food to share, no shortage of beer and soda and so many rounds of conversation. Larry didn't make this one, but he would have fit right in.
Steve says that Larry wanted his ashes spread over water and at some point ahead, Steve will voyage up to Otis Reservoir in Massachusetts and Larry will be back home at one of his family's favorite spots. I can just imagine looking down at the water and seeing Larry's face, still wearing that smile and inviting us all to come in. He was my older cousin and I will miss him.