Because Tinyletter is mostly for mail, it’s nearly impossible to find old newsletters. So I’m posting all my old newsletters here so they can be searched, indexed, all that. You’re still better off just subscribing.
Marsha P. Johnson died on July 6, 1992, at the age of 42.
July 6, 2019
My father has seven brothers and sisters, and my mother has three brothers. That is a lot of people. I always remember taking our son William to visit visiting my now-passed grandmother just a few months after he was born. His birth experience was an immensely difficult one — this will surely be its own newsletter at some point, but it involved discovering at the last minute that there would be no drugs administered, a broken collarbone and my son literally being airborne the first time I ever saw him — and my wife and I were telling her the story of how harrowing it was. Dorothy Walker Leitch, all 89 years of her, looked at me and chuckled. “I did that eight times.”
I can name all my dad’s and mom’s brothers and sisters, without looking it up, and of this I am quite proud: Larry, Terry, Jimmy, Joyce, Peggy, Becky, Cathy, Ron, Mike, Sean. But I cannot name all my cousins. All seven of Dad’s siblings lived within roughly a 30mile radius of Mattoon, and I went to high school with a high percentage of them. (Coming from this large of a family, you had to be careful who you dated; some sort of distant relation was always a possibility.) Shelly and the aforementioned Denny were in my graduating class; Scottie was a year before me; Blake a few years behind. We were scattered all over everywhere, and there always seemed to be more of us popping up every year. I had some cousins having children of their own before I quite realized who they were. We were just speckled all across the prairie.
My father was the oldest son in his family and, thus, like his father, was named after his grandfather, William Bryan Leitch. I was the oldest son in my family and thus, like my father, was named after my grandfather, William Franklin Leitch. (This is why my oldest son is named William Bryan Leitch.) My grandfather died when I was 13 years old, which meant I was fortunate enough to spend real time with him. Like anyone would, he enjoyed spending time with his namesake, and we used to go fishing off the Toledo Reservoir in Cumberland County. We never caught anything, but one time a dog hanging around the banks bit into my line’s hook, and he yelped and yelped until we rowed over and took it out for him. The dog looked at up at my grandfather with a mix of confusion, anger and relief. I still carry my grandfather’s final drivers license in my wallet. He would have turned 100 last year.
I was the first male grandson with the last name Leitch to be born — Scottie and all the other older boys were sons of the sisters and thus had the names of their fathers — and I remember a sustained pressure, for many years, to hurry up and get married and have a son so I could make certain the family name carried on before I got hit by a truck or something. I moved away from Mattoon, but the cousins kept coming and coming. There’s even another William now, Jimmy’s boy, William Riley Leitch, and I say “now” like he was just born or something, but he’s getting married in a couple of months. He’s a good kid, and by kid I mean grown adult human out there trudging through it all like the rest of us. I’ve only met him a few times, but he seems great, and he even invited me to the wedding. I sent my regrets. I’ll be in Tennessee that weekend. You can’t make all the cousins’ weddings. You can’t even come close.
Every once in a while a cousin will pop up on Facebook, usually to argue with me about something I’ve written. (Usually politics.) What percentage of cousins can I name? Denny. Shelly. Eric. Chad. Blake. Amy. Dawn. Nick. We lost Scottie a couple of years ago. Jennifer. I can keep going. Probably. One of the sadder things about leaving my hometown so many years ago is that parts of my family can’t help but be a little distant; you lose touch. I see my uncles more often. I ask them how their kids are doing. They tell me they’re doing fine, but I don’t always know what they do or where they live or if they have children of their own. There are just too many. And I am too far away.
About three-quarters of us got together a few years ago when Grandma Leitch died at the age of 94. I see now, from her obituary, that the Mattoon Journal-Gazette pinned down a number on Leitch family cousins: “She leaves twenty grandchildren and thirty-three great-grandchildren.” (Support your local newspaper.) With my cousins Denny and Dawn on my mom’s side, that makes 22 cousins. We Leitch spawn all posed together for a picture after the funeral, a testament to my grandmother’s life’s work, all of us each little different parts of her personality. I can name each of them in the picture, looking at it now. That makes me feel a little better. We are bonded together. They are blood. But let’s not kid ourselves: Practically speaking, we are, for the most part, friendly strangers.
We spent this July 4 in Buffalo, New York, visiting my wife’s brother and his family. He has three children; he and my wife have two half-sisters and two stepsisters, totaling nine cousins. My sister doesn’t have any children, so that’s it: Those are the nine cousins for my boys.
They have had a lovely week. They swam — my brother-in-law has a fantastic pool in his backyard that, because he lives in Buffalo, is an excellent amenity for the one month a year it isn’t frozen over — they ate ice cream, they stayed up late watching “American Ninja Warrior” together. Wynn is more constitutionally similar to Ella and Van; William is quieter and more cerebral, like his cousin Charlotte. You watch them all bounce off each other, feel each other out, circle each other warily until, next thing you know, you look over and they’re shooting each other with water guns and chasing each other around the house with lightsabers. (There always seems to be a weapon involved.) They are best friends, and then everybody goes home to their regular lives. It happens. Their parents don’t get to see their siblings as much as they’d like to either.
They’ll get together again, hopefully soon, probably not for another couple of years, and they’ll be a little taller, and someone’s voice will be a little deeper, and then they won’t see each other for another couple of years, and next thing you know William is sending his regrets, sorry, he’d love to be at Charlotte’s wedding but turns out he’ll be in Tennessee that weekend. And then there will be more cousins, and more great-greatchildren, and the years will pass and then they’ll only see each other when they pose for that picture together at the funeral, a testament to all that came before them, the next in the line of whatever else is coming.
We live our lives in parallel, close but not really, connected forever, but essentially only through Christmas cards and whichever holiday happens to line up with everyone’s schedules every couple of years. This can make you sad, but that shouldn’t distract us from how much all this matters. Family follows us around whatever we’re doing, wherever we’re going, and it’s always there waiting for us, whether we’re thinking about it or not. My boys might not be thinking about their cousins once we all go home to Athens. But their cousins are still there, regardless. There is comfort in that. We’re never alone. It all follows us around. Larry, Terry, Jimmy, Joyce, Peggy, Becky, Cathy, Ron, Mike, Sean. Denny. Scottie. Shelly. Wherever you speckle us across the prairie, we’re still together. And when it’s all over ... they’ll still be there then too.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.
1. Data Decade: Best Relief Pitchers of the Decade, MLB.com. I love doing this series so much.
2. Sifting Through the Kevin Durant Rubble, New York. We were this close to a much bigger Durant story this week. Alas!
3. Spider-Man Villains, Ranked, Vulture. There are some super-lame ones.
4. Surprising and Disappointing Teams and Players From the First Half, MLB.com. The Cardinals were definitely on the disappointing side.
5. This Decade’s All-Star Games, Ranked, MLB.com. I went to half of these, actually!
6. Predicting the 2024 Home Run Derby, MLB.com. I nearly got Nolan Gorman in there.
7. Debate Club: Spider-Man Actors, SYFY Wire. Better than the villains.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
Back in September! Watch the ones you haven’t seen on Amazon or on SI TV.
Grierson & Leitch, Best movies from the first of 2019, “Yesterday,” “That Thing You Do!”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I can’t believe this team is still hanging around first place.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS
I’m so exhausted from last week that we’re taking a week off from these. You’re welcome!
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Writing letters is good for you. Bring ‘em on at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Cold Irons Bound,” Bob Dylan. Still in a Dylan mode after Rolling Thunder Revue.
Tooth Fairies rule.
Have a great weekend, all.