August 31, 2013Henry Arden Stroud was my first cousin. He was what we in Eastern North Carolina would call “a mess.” He was never without a smile and a good word, a story true or false. Who knew? Ardie was born one year to the day after I was born. I always felt that connected us in a most special way. Ardie died August 26, 2013, at the VA Hospital in Durham, NC, Ardie was my Daddy’s brother’s second son. We cousins lived in Ayden… within three blocks of one another. We grew up together. We walked to Mrs. Buck’s store on Second Street. Ardie always somehow had money. He bought grape chewing gum. I had never tasted grape chewing gum. Ardie said. “Have a taste.” And he gave me the gum right out of his mouth. It was delicious. That’s what cousins do… they share. Thank you, Ardie. Ardie married a wonderful friend of ours. We were thrilled to have Marlene as a sister to the Strouds. I don’t know the year, but about the time Ardie and Marlene’s first child was expected, Ardie went to Viet Nam. Ardie was always a dreamer, kinda like my own Dad. Big stories, big dreams that may have bordered on fantasy. Still, to be brought into big dreams, visions and wonder is not always a bad thing. When Ardie returned from Viet Nam, he was different. Errant somehow and more elusive in spirit. Even we, who did not see him often, saw the change. Still I loved him. His marriage failed. Multiple marriages failed… even the marriage with Ruthie who loved the big Gone With the Wind Parties we all enjoyed. Finally somebody somewhere acknowledged that, though he was not a combat warrior, he had been exposed to Agent Orange. That explained part of it. The last time I saw Ardie was at a family reunion. He seemed fit and well as he ever was. And he was his usual happy, fun to be around self. That day he gave me framed newspaper clippings from our grandparent's engagement and wedding. He told me he thought I might be the only one who would value it. I did and I do even more now. Some might say Ardie was a ne’er do well. Mentally ill. A dreamer and teller of tales fantastic. Meds might have helped. Tonight I remember someone who was dealt genes, not unlike those of my Dad and me, who hope and dream and have passion for what the world can be. Ardie grew up in the Methodist Church, the church in which I am a pastor. For whatever his shortcomings, Ardie was a child of God, precious to me and to many. I pray, Dear Cousin Ardie, that today you rest in the arms of Almighty God. I pray that you have found peace in your spirit. Thank you for sharing your gum with me. Thank you for sharing your generous abandon. Even though I know you should have been more responsible, I will tell you… responsibility is sometimes over-rated. Thank you for the joy you gave witness to. Rest in peace. Amen.