No one will be offended if I say that Barbara was my favorite cousin.
She wasn’t just a cousin to me. She was a role model. Having known Barbara when I was growing up is a major reason I became a successful adult.
When I was very small, she was the cool teen-ager with big blonde hair. She took me for thrilling horse rides, hanging on behind her on her big Arab horses.
When I was an awkward, horse-crazy, lonely adolescent, Barbara lived in the little house up on Gravel Bar hill, where our grandparents once lived. She had horses, chickens, ducks, a mule, and fabulous Afghan dogs. Animals loved her, they trusted her as one of their own kind. Barbara made me welcome at her house. She showed me how to handle and groom and ride the horses, feed the chickens, scythe down the high grass. She showed me how to butcher a duck, how to weld metal, how to pour a beer into a glass, how to shift a Jeep into 4-wheel drive, and how hold down a goat who didn’t want to ride in the back of a Jeep.
Hers is the only bathroom I ever visited that had an injured swan living in the bathtub.
Barbara knew how to do everything. She didn’t wait for help to arrive. She didn’t worry about her hair or fingernails. She showed me the best way to get something done is to do it yourself.
She didn’t stay at home. She went out into the woods and had adventures. She dug for hidden treasures in Cook Forest. She helped Bobby Dale relocate his rattlesnake collection. She took apart engines. She dug out springs and shifted boulders and strung electric fences uphill and down, through dense woods. She put roofs on houses. She knew how to drive a steamroller!
Barb had more than her share of suffering and bad choices, but she somehow made the most of it, she kept a positive attitude. She took care of her mother, her daughter, her family, with an endless generosity. She worked hard. She earned every damn thing she ever had.
She wasn’t too proud to dig in and get dirty and get the job done. And she taught me that. It’s because of Barbara’s example that I am the person I am now.
My cousin Barbara was my hero. She still is. I know she’s not gone very far away, and I will see her again sometime soon. She told me so, the last time I saw her, when I held her hands in mine and told her goodbye. Her lovely, strong hands, a little calloused.
Hands a lot like mine.
My cousin Barbara Burns died last week at her home in rural Pennsylvania.
This will be read on Saturday at her memorial service.