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The departed live in our minds, hearts

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Michael O'Hare
Friday, May 3, 2013, 10:17 p.m.

Sometimes as we meander through life, flowing like a stream, moving around bends into unknown vistas, it suddenly dawns on us the current has taken us a long way from where we started.

It hit me like that last week when I got a phone call, telling me that my cousin Gary had died.

I grew up in one of four houses in a row of homes occupied by my maternal grandmother's children. There were six cousins including me, but Gary was closest in age and lived next door, becoming my de facto older brother.

It was a time of learning about girls, listening to music and Pirate games on the transistor and spending hours washing and waxing our cars – mostly Gary's – in the alleyway next to his house.

He had a Ford Fairlane, racing green, with convertible top and I will never forget the day he told me to drive it around the local streets with the top down, music playing, the sun shining. The best part was pulling into the lot of the community pool, swinging around the turnaround and “growling” past the onlookers.

It was the late 1960s and life was good – no, it was cool, man!

Over the years – as the twists and turns of life can have it – Gary and I moved apart from each other and of late he and his wife Nancy were living in Florida. We exchanged the occasional e-mail. He invited us down, but we never got to make the plans.

Think, if you will, of all of the people who have been a part of your life, yet who drift away into the wide world, sometimes out of touch, sometimes in unknown places. So-called social media keeps people together – or at least informed longer – and that can be a good thing.

Death, however, is different.

Yet in some ways, Gary, my late sister, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles remain part of the yet continuing stream. These folks live in our minds, in our hearts, in our very beings.

To be sure, memory is a tricky thing, and often we come only to remember the good things that happened, and the good in the people among whom those things happened.

But that might be a built-in protection.

In the Thornton Wilder masterpiece of “Our Town,” the young Emily Webb dies and is given a chance to revisit one day in her life. She finds the intensity of the sights and sounds and smells and the actions of her loved ones too overwhelming to stay and returns to the cemetery.

Her great line is: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

To me, the whole play is that call to attentiveness to the everyday things.

Gary was once a part of my everyday, some moments in the sun, my day driving around a cool convertible, an older brother who set examples. The day I slipped off the diving board at the pool and splashed about hurt and disoriented and he jumped in to pull me to the side.

He still flows right along with me.

Think of all the folks that have done that for you. And be alert to all those who are doing it now. They are all part of our meandering stream, and we are all going in the same direction together.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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