My cousin Matt died this morning.

His life was full of struggle and pain, but he fought to make the best of it.  Matt was born about six months before me.  I feel fortunate to have been Matt’s friend during our childhood.  We were very close, having lived in the same house for a while and having gone to the same schools most of our lives.

Over the years we grew apart but this morning when I heard the news, a flood of memories came back to me.  So this evening I decided to take a ride down to our old neighborhood.  I first drove past Sherman Park Lutheran where we roller skated, then Washington Park where we practiced football in the fall and ice skated in the winter.  Then I drove past our old house on 37th and Lloyd and sat there thinking about more memories.  Memories of us hiding from our Grandpa Dodge under his work bench.  I thought about Matt, Robert Bergner and I hitting each other over the heads like Barbarians with 4 foot long icicles.  I turned the corner and looked down the alley remembering how we used to climb up on the cinder box trying to push each other off.  I remembered all the games of football and kick the can we played in the alley.

I drove past the “corner store” where we could buy a fist full of candy for a dime.  Later on Matt could by a pack of cigarettes with a forged note from his “mom”.  Across the street at Bethany Lutheran Church, we once found an open door, ran up into the balcony and tried playing Black Sabbath’s Iron Man on the organ.  After that we went into the storage room on the side of the alter and wolfed down a package of communion wafers…not because we were hungry, but because they were there.

I drove past the house with the huge chestnut tree and thought about the hundreds of times we walked by, picked up chestnuts and whipped them at each other.  If we were lucky, the prickers on the outside of the chestnut would hit bare skin inflicting “severe pain”.  My last stop was Bethany Lutheran School.  Matt went to Bethany for all of grade school, and I into 6th grade.  It’s hard to imagine now, but Matt was a tremendous athlete in grade school.  He set the standard for all of us.

These are the memories of Matt I choose to hold on to.  While we may have drifted apart, Mathew Ryan Patten was the brother I always wished I had.

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