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TERRY WOSTER: My cousin Red

My cousin Red McManus from Reliance passed the other day, and one of my first thoughts was, "Now who's going to send the goofy Christmas cards?''

For years before my mom died, Red sent a Christmas card to the McManus-related clan with a picture of his Aunt Marie and some outlandish tale of something she'd done during the past year. Sometimes the picture was goofy. Sometimes the picture was normal, legitimate. No matter.

The accompanying story was wild and funny in the way that causes a person to groan aloud but to hope quietly that old Red would never quit sending those things. It wasn't really Christmas without the card from Red. I know he got a kick out of planning and executing the prank each season, but I also know his cards brought a smile to the face of an old widow woman who for a long while was the last surviving McManus of her generation.

His real name was Ronald. Sometimes I called him Ronnie when we were kids, but just about everyone in Lyman County knew him as Red all his adult life. He was one of triplets. Sheila and Sharon were his sisters. I guess if I say he was 68, that doesn't necessarily mean the girls were, too. Either of them could still beat knots in the back of my head if they didn't like me divulging ages.

The triplets are just over a year younger than me, and since we all grew up within a few miles of Reliance, we spent a ton of time together at family reunions, weddings, baptisms, funerals, town socials and a thousand church suppers in Reliance. It's a common thread among those of us who grew up in the small towns and farm neighborhoods of South Dakota six or seven decades ago, that we were at least 5 years old before we ever had a friend or playmate who wasn't a relative. Our friends were our relatives -- and they remained so.

Many of the members of my generation of the extended McManus clan moved away from Lyman County as we grew up and sought our fortunes. Red and a few others stayed, having discovered early on that fortune could be found at home: In families, in work and in a sense of community. Red and those others who stayed gave those of us who left a reason to come home again, an anchor to our childhoods, you might say. Red made it clear we were always welcome.

He didn't just do that with relatives, though. I ran into a lawyer some years ago -- a guy from one of the big cities in the state -- who asked me how my cousin Red was doing. There was no earthly reason this guy would have known Red. Turned out, he'd been on a trip with his family and either mechanical trouble or a storm forced them to pull off the highway near Reliance. He said Red and his wife, Ruth Ann, took care of them like they'd been friends forever -- and exchanged Christmas cards ever after.

I remember in 1996 when our younger son, Andy, played in a senior all-star game at the Lyman Garden in Presho. He had a great time, and I enjoyed watching him play in one of the towns of my high-school days. Red was in the crowd that night, running a video camera and a color commentary on the action.

A few days after the game, a package arrived from Red. Inside was a copy of the game video -- which focused a lot on Andy -- with a note that said Red thought the kid might like the tape to look at someday when he was old like his dad.

For all I know, Red was running half a dozen other cameras that evening and sending memories to other young guys and their families. It wouldn't surprise me. That kind of stuff came naturally to him.

My cousin Red had a big, Irish heart, a love of family and community and a boisterous but gentle nature. I know this: Heaven just became a whole lot more lively.