“That boy was NEVER where he was supposed to be!” That was Mom’s mantra whenever telling her favorite stories of our childhood. Invariably they involved Bob. (It sucks to be a late entry into a big family.)
“People talk about the ‘terrible twos!” she’d say. “Well Bob was “a terrible two” for five years!”
Everybody agreed that Bob was quite a handful.
If you believe the stories, even before he could walk, Bob could escape:
He would leave the house, and appear at local businesses in his jammies. He went to the local bakery where he was given donuts, at the local restaurants where he was given pancakes, and at the homes of relatives who lived in the neighborhood. Usually before they had started their day. He was a friendly little tike. Or else he was hungry.
“I’m sure the whole neighborhood thought I was starving that kid!” Mom laughed. “I was mortified, and terrified that somebody would call the police on me for neglecting my son.”
Well, somethings never change.
Bob, after his death, escaped. And it cracked me up.
Bob was supposed to be sent to one funeral home, but he was sent to a different one. It took nearly 24 hours to get him to the correct place.
I love the idea that Bob wandered around town, one last time. I hope someone gave him a donut.
We all have them. All five of us were born with Mom and Dad’s Irish blue eyes. They light up with laughter and mischief. Especially when we were all together. The last time all seven of us were together, the jokes ricocheted around the room as if shot from an AK-47.
Eva Cassidy. Bob gave her to me.
It’s one of my first memories.
We headed up Wells Street. Bob, my eldest brother who is seven years older than me, was riding me on the bar of his bike. I was about 3, and I sat happily on the bike, watching the baseball cards that were clothes-pinned to the spokes of the front wheel click.
“Lease,” Bob said, “Make sure to keep your feet out of the spokes!” He didn’t tell me why. Maybe he should have.
We turned onto Charles Street, next to St. Pat’s School. Our brother Fred was standing there on the corner.
“It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” Fred has said 3,428 times in the intervening years.
It had never occurred to me before Bob mentioned it, but I was suddenly curious as to what would happen if I DID put one of my feet into the spokes. So I just put one little piece of my sneaker in.
“You guys came around the corner, and all of a sudden, the bike just STOPPED! In slow motion, Bob flew over you and the handlebars, and then you, Lease, flew over too, and landed on top of Bob. The bike followed, and there was a big pile on the corner,” Fred has said, often. “I laughed and laughed.”
The lesson I took from that experience was that if somebody tells you not to do something, think about why they are saying that. They might just be right. It’s possibly one of the more important life lessons I’ve ever learned.
Of course, he taught me many other things. Big brothers do that.
Another lesson is that slapstick is hilarious. Unless you’re the one slapped.
As I write this, my big brother Bob lies in hospice in Florida, dying. His illness and deterioration happened incredibly quickly, and I can’t get there for a few more days for medical reasons. Fred is trying to get there to be with him. Bob is unresponsive, incoherent. Mentally gone.
As Bob is unmarried and has no kids, the decisions for his care have fallen to me, as I was named his medical proxy, and I’ve shared that responsibility with Fred, just as the three of us shared the burden (along with Beth’s sons) when our sister Beth was in Charon’s boat.
Writing comforts me, and you are all my friends, who have read the stories of my childhood, my family. Bob hasn’t appeared in many of my stories, as he was much older. He doesn’t fit into the narrative too often. Moreover, as an adult he has been a difficult guy. Reculsive, introverted, angry. His has been a difficult life.
But he was also a sensitive man, with a big heart that he kept well hidden. A writer’s eye for detail, and a love of eclectic movies. Like the brilliant comedy, What We Did On Our Vacation
Appreciate the folks you have who love you, and whom you love, no matter the differences. No matter how big a pain in the butt they are. Because you just never know.