This column is ultimately about the flu, but I’m going to take the scenic route in getting there. You’ve been warned.

Keeping in touch with family and friends is difficult while raising children and earning a living, a problem often complicated by distance. That’s been my situation since my parents wandered west from our “home base” in North and South Carolina.

My cousins were almost like brothers and sisters to me until we moved away while I was a teenager. With three exceptions, these cousins on both sides of the family were born right after World War II, so we were tossed together frequently growing up.

Contacts with them since have been minimal beyond obligatory Christmas cards, and even that has waned in recent years.

The deaths of two uncles resulted in a renewed acquaintance with one cousin in Georgia, and an unexpected Facebook “hello” has opened communications with another in South Carolina.

It’s odd how the passing of years and the freedom of retirement can prompt people to restore ties that were never completely broken, but were allowed to wilt.

These renewed contacts with cousins resulted in a long-distance conversation with my sister last Sunday about how we need to become purposeful in getting reacquainted with them. We reminisced about childhood visits — and who begot whom. Along the way, we remembered two cousins — both daughters of the same aunt and uncle — who died while still youngsters. The second girl died two months after my sister had been born.

I recalled that this cousin and her mother spent much of one summer at our house, but I really don’t know why. We were both only kids, since this was before my sister was born, and we were both elementary school students. I remember thinking that this must be what having a sister is like, because she became like a sister to me. I treasure that experience, because by the time my true sister was born in my 11th year, I acted more like a third parent than a brother.

That cousin died at age 11, not long after my sister was born. She was recovering from the measles, but her parents still felt it would be OK to take her out into some harsh weather to attend the funeral of a relative. Apparently, it wasn’t.

I consulted a family genealogy compiled by my father’s older sister to confirm names and dates. Tucked into that booklet was a small card on which all my immunizations from infancy through teenage years had been recorded. I can’t recall when Mother turned this over to me.

My cousin’s premature death, coupled with this immunization record, reminded me of the importance of shots. I don’t want to debate this, but I am convinced medical research has proven that for the vast majority of people, it’s better to get your shots than not.

Meanwhile, flu season is winding down, but it’s still not too late to get your flu shot. The Brownwood/Brown County Health Department will offer them for free this afternoon and Saturday at the Lehnis Railroad Museum. If you’ve escaped the flu this winter, you’re lucky, but the “season” runs through May. I had the shot, and I got the flu, but it was a very mild case.

With more than 130 flu deaths in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this winter, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at