The Universal Notebook: My cousin Andrea

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On May 16 I was scrolling through my Facebook feeds when I came across one that stopped me dead. “RIP Andrea Parker.”

My cousin Andrea had passed away on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I didn’t even know she was sick.

Andrea lived a hard life in beautiful places. She grew up in Portland, lived for a time in the Florida Keys and then moved with her third husband to St. Croix.

I hadn’t actually seen her since 2002 when we had a family reunion at Pine Point in Scarborough, but we kept in touch via email and Facebook. When I looked at the photo album from the reunion, it struck me that 16 years is a long time. My folks were still alive, as was Andrea’s father.

Andrea and I were both born in 1949, while our fathers were students at Bowdoin College after the war. I was born in February, Andrea in September. My mother and father and I, and Andrea’s mother and father and she all lived together in an off-campus apartment in what is now the Elks Lodge in Brunswick.

After her parents divorced, which was an uncommon occurrence 60 years ago, Andrea lived with her mother and grandmother in a large house on Coyle Street in Portland that was full of dogs, including a Great Dane whose tail was like a bullwhip across the face when we were kids.

Andrea was a year behind me in high school, she at Deering, me at Westbrook. She studied dance at the local dance studio and I’d see her at teen dances. In fact, when I did an internet search for Andrea just now I found a post where a guy remembered seeing Andi dancing on the mantelpiece at Serenity Hill, a popular 1960s summer dance hall in Naples.

Andrea was nothing if not sexy back then. She was very sensuous, more than a little bit wild and she possessed a hoarse, husky Lauren Bacall voice. I remember attending a boxing match at the Expo and a couple of my buddies pointing out a hot chick in a tight white dress sitting alone at the top of the stands.

“Oh, that’s my cousin Andrea,” I was pleased to inform them. I think she was dating Portland boxer Pete Riccitelli at the time.

Andrea’s life kind of went off track after high school, her appealing wildness leading to some destructive behavior and self-medication. But Couri Hay, one of her best friends at Deering, said he never saw that side of Andrea.

“Andrea was game to have fun, open, full of energy and not judgmental,” said Hay, who is now a noted publicist and society writer in New York and Southampton. “She just accepted me for who I was. The boys liked Andrea and being with a popular girl was good for me.”

Andrea had a lot of gay friends in Portland. I’m guessing she might have related to some of their father issues and she must have found it a relief to be around men who were not lusting after her. For a few years in the late 1970s, she was a bartender at The Phoenix, a gay disco on Oak Street in Portland. She may even have officiated at the first unofficial gay wedding in Portland.

I kind of lost track of Andi once she left Maine. By the time we got back together at the 2002 reunion, her hard life was showing. She had been beaten up by marital, legal and substance abuse issues, but she still had that open, generous spirit that was my cousin Andrea.

Andrea had been sober for more than six years when, about 18 months ago, she went to visit her ex-husband, with whom she stayed close, and found him dead in bed. That set her off, and then Hurricane Maria did her in. When Maria left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in ruins last fall Andrea was without power for close to two months. She told me the sound of the generators kept her awake at night. I suggested she come to Maine until things were better, but she said she couldn’t. She had the dogs to look after.

“I always thought those dogs defined her,” said my cousin Mimi, one of Andrea’s half-sisters. “She was always picking up strays, two-legged and four-legged. But she was the stray in our family.”

True enough. And as her half-sister Liz observed, “Andrea was hard to like, but easy to love.”

Andrea was a doting aunt, she took care of an ex-husband, an elderly neighbor and a pack of dogs. She took care of just about everyone except herself.

Love and laughter, Andrea. Love and laughter.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.