As the oldest child and oldest grandchild on my father’s side, I didn’t have a ton of older kids around when I was young. My cousin, Jeff, was several years older than I – so as I entered high school he was finishing college. He traveled frequently, often leaving with little more than clothes on his back (or maybe a small duffel) to start a new adventure. He would mail back packages of souvenirs, rolls of film, letters, and notes that he did not want to carry with him as he hopped from one destination to the next. We would set these aside for him, each package in the pile a reminder of the crazy adventures he must be having.
Jeff and his brother Steve once were talking about travel tricks. They would buy one-way tickets on sale in the newspaper (back when that was possible) for $50 or so and travel with little luggage and an ATM card. The card would let them in vestibules to sleep until they could get a job tending bar that would pay for a room
On his return from any given trip, we’d gather around for tales and to go through photos of the incredible places he’d visited and the people he had met. I remember his last visit to my parent’s house. The Perseids meteor shower was at its peak and we lay out on their deck with the star-filled sky of the country overhead as they streaked by.
Once, Jeff was flying out of a South American country (Peru, perhaps) on what turned out to be a freight plane full of sheep. As the plane approached the Andes, it barely lifted above the mountaintops, as Jeff grabbed the cargo-netting to keep his seat.
By the time I got to college, Jeff had settled down a bit. He had a place and a job in Pasadena. We had a couple of phone conversations my freshman year. That was when he discovered he was sick. He passed away early in my junior year. My Aunt and his brother spread his ashes at Joshua Tree National Park, one of Jeff’s favorite places.
Jeff’s spirit of adventure and great humor marked my youth. I looked up to him and admired his courage to go out and see and experience the world. I still hold his memory close.