Unphotographed memories

This is the tenth of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.
Auntie Marilyn made one of these for each of the kids
Most of my childhood memories are attached to photographs. I see a toy, a face, a moment, trapped in an album, and a story wakes up and stretches in my mind.
I have no photos of Auntie Marilyn’s basement. I have very few photos of my cousins from that era. But I remember the basement, and the hours spent there with my cousins. It’s all vague, fuzzy, but present. She wasn’t an aunt, and her grandkids weren’t cousins, not really. She was my father’s cousin, and we kids used to discuss very seriously whether that made us all higher degree cousins to each other (second? third?), or more removed ones. It didn’t matter, but we felt a need to define and label ourselves.
I remember visiting Auntie Marilyn when the cousins were staying there. A steep staircase leading down, right by the side door where we came in. On the left, a few steps up to the kitchen, where the big dog – a Great Dane in my memory but maybe just a Lab in reality – would sleep on a rug near a sliding glass door. Downstairs was dark, carpeted, maybe wood-paneled. Low ceilings. Picture frames.
There was a couch, and a piano. Nobody else we knew had a piano, so this piano was a very big deal. The keys were heavy, like they were made of smooth stone. We played Chopsticks, badly, and loved it. We played hide and seek. I remember wicker, and crocheted blankets, but can’t prove they existed.
I’m not sure why I have memories of her place. We didn’t go often, and the visits weren’t attached to any special occasions. Part of it was probably that I was so happy to have a cousin, third or otherwise, of my own age to play with. I was ten years behind the girl cousins on my Dad’s side and five years ahead of the lone girl cousin on my Mom’s side, so when Marilyn’s grandkids came to visit I finally had a girl cousin to hang out with. That means a lot, when you’re twelve. Maybe that’s why the memories stuck.

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