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The next best thing
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Being raised an only child meant I spent a lot of time reading and pretending.

I could read a Nancy Drew novel and then pretend I was off somewhere solving a mystery. I still don't trust one of our former neighbors; that man had too many Easter decorations to not have kids.

But I yearned for siblings to play with, to talk to, and to get in trouble with - heck, if nothing else, Granny's yelling could have more than covered a couple of children's blatant misbehavior. She wasted it on just me.

Instead of having someone there to share those childhood moments, I had cousins.

Lots and lots of cousins. Some of them varied in age, because Granny came from a large family.

I looked forward to our yearly get-together at my great-grandmother's house. The old white wooden house, with the wrap-around porch did not look big enough to hold our numbers, but somehow it did, and we would spill out into the yard if we had to, eating on the trunks of our cars while we visited.

Every year, I looked for my cousin Chrissy - I called her John Wayne because if anyone under the age of 20 could take on the Duke and win, it would have been her.

She was the coolest cousin I could think of because she was fearless. And, even though we were polar opposites, with her being athletic and able to keep her footing, I was chubby and clumsy and quite certain I wore something that involved bows and ribbons, she still eagerly played with me.

And we both eagerly and mercilessly tormented her brother Butch.

John Wayne had taught me how to fish one afternoon at our uncle's lake beside his house.

We walked back to our great grandmother's house where Mama came out to the porch, Virginia Slim 120 poised high beside her red hair, and informed me it was time to head home.

I told her I was going to learn to clean the fish. John Wayne took the knife and cut the head slap off. I screamed like a girl - because, well, I am a ginormous sissy of a thing - and ran up the back steps. I was ready to go.

I am pretty sure we went back the next week. I just told her I wasn't too keen on chopping a head off of anything.

When our great-grandmother passed away, Granny's family didn't do the big once a year thing anymore. We all just grew up, moved away and lost contact with each other over the years.

It had been years - decades since I had last seen many of my cousins - and then at Granny's funeral, they were there. I think somehow, the mean old gal thought this was her great plan and I will give her credit for that.

A man came up and hugged me, saying "I am so sorry about Aunt Helen..."

The face looked familiar, but my mind was having a hard time recalling from decades before. Then one moment, he glanced down and I gasped with only the joy a child could have at seeing a friend.

"You have a sister and I called her John Wayne!" He laughed and nodded. "And we were awful to you sometimes!"

"Yes, y'all could be," he laughed.

And that was all it took. Even though it had been probably close to 30 years since we had seen each other, it was like it was yesterday.

I realized how much I had missed my cousins.

One of the things I envy about Lamar is he does have a large family. I can't keep everyone straight at times because I think his family may be larger than Granny's was, if that was possible.

But we are hours away, with Atlanta traffic between us and I hate even going south of the square downtown.

I've told y'all I am used to cows and bossy strutting chickens; 18 wheelers and cars zipping in and out of lanes makes me nauseous.

We decided it was time for a visit and when we finally arrived, two of Cole's cousins came outside to greet us.

Even though they were older than Cole, they all had a good time and played together for hours. They even thought they had rescued a dog until we found out it belonged next door. But things like that happen when you're with cousins - magical moments of childhood just occur in the everyday mundaneness.

Cole, an only child, relished every second of it.

"I love my cousins," he said, as he was getting ready for bed that evening.

"I am so glad you got to spend time with them," I told him.

"You know, I miss my friends at school, since I am homeschooled now," he said. "I get lonely sometimes."

"I know you do," I replied. It tugged at my heart. I knew he did.

When you're an only, you need those connections.

"And I have always wished I had a brother or sister, but when I was with my cousins, it made me happy - like I did have that, does that make sense?"

"Absolutely," I said, kissing his head.

"Because really, baby, cousins are the next best thing."

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the recently e-published novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."