John and Michael. First cousins who were almost like brothers

And still as men they were like blood brothers, though life took them on different paths.

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John Fountain (left) and his first cousin Michael Burnett as young boys together.

John and Michael. Michael and John. First cousins — more like brothers — born in the same month: September.

I will always remember...

John was the eldest, by 11 months and 18 days. Little boys in the hood, they always played together. Hot Wheels, electric racing tracks, jump rope, baseball, hopscotch and jacks, they frolicked. With spitballs and bicycles, spiders and ants.

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Drank sweet Kool-Aid together, licked frozen icy cups in hot weather. Prayed together, got whuppings together, fought together, stood together. Come whatever.

The boys walked Michael’s cocker spaniel named Blackie at night together. Laughed forever — back when it seemed like life would last like good leather.

Their feet dangled beneath the kitchen table. And when John couldn’t stand to eat his gooey oatmeal on those ‘60’s school mornings, Michael made it disappear when the coast was clear.

“I’ll eat it,” he’d say to John.

“Thanks, Mike.” Then off to school they’d run, creating colorful pages of childhood recollections for future years.

Memories lead me to tears…


Michael Burnett

Thick as thieves, they cried together. Conceived of harmless mischievous plots on summer days whenever they were bored. The boys’ hearts soared, as their uncle gave chase after they would bang on his front door — just for fun — then run, out into the sunlight.

Their adrenaline rising with the “old man” cursing and gaining on their heels, until they made it to the back silver gate that opened to the alley and their great escape.

How they laughed until their bellies ached — John and Michael. Then they’d yell, “Let’s do it again!” Eventually they’d creep back around, wearing prepubescent grins, to the scene of their crime.

I wish I could turn back the hands of time…

Michael and John delighted to spend the night. To dream in their bunks aloud after their parents had turned out the lights. They joked and laughed, and snickered until drifting off to sleep as darkness melted into golden morning light.

Both boys had their own blood brothers, born of the same mothers. Michael’s was three years older. John’s was seven years younger.

But John and Michael were blood brothers too, confided in each other the way that good brothers do. Delighted to see each other whenever the other came through. Michael and John.

They spoke close enough to feel each other’s breath. Hugged and slapped hard fives. Never withheld the truth of how they felt. Never felt the need to leave things unsaid.

Brothers for life, until the end of days, they sang in the church Sunshine Band and starred in church plays. Donned red blazers and ties with baby faces—Michael in black pants, John in his grays.

Those were the days…

Michael played tambourine, drums and the organ at their grandparents’ True Vine. John played lead guitar as the saints danced in time.

In time, Michael and John — despite their boyhood bond, and having stood beside each other as the best man at each other’s wedding, despite never having imagined that the day might ever come when they might feel or act numb toward each other — grew apart. Still blood brothers, but on separate charts.

Conversations between them dwindling over time. And perhaps things left unsaid as time, space and insignificant relational happenstance drove between them a divide.

Then last week came word that Michael, after a long illness, had died. John cried. Even if in some ways he had years ago already said goodbye. Even if he hopes to see Michael again someday far beyond the sky.

From this day and for the rest of my Septembers, I will always remember.

Rest in Peace Michael Burnett, 59. I will always love you. JOHN

Contact John Fountain at

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