My Brother Rob

Childhood Christmas

Childhood Christmas

Sydney

December 20 is the date my brother Rob was killed.  He was 17, a passenger in a car driven by my uncle, who also died. Rob was a senior in high school and I was a senior in college.

Sisters and Brothers
 
The world rightly views a child dying before a parent as one of life’s worst tragedies.

Condolences pour in to bereaved mothers and fathers, and sometimes siblings are overlooked, especially following the death of a young person.

Closer than We Might Have Been 

Rob and I grew up in the same house Clive and I recently emptied of 54 years’ worth of memories and possessions.  We were perhaps closer than we otherwise might have been because our parents were divorced.  This was unheard of in Ho-Ho-Kus (except for us) and we often heard ourselves referred to as “coming from a broken home.”

Our father lived in the next town and we saw him twice a week.  Dad didn’t know that Robbie and I secretly poked each other and held our noses every time we drove by Dad’s new wife’s car dealership.

Robbie and I looked out for each other as kids.  We walked to school together and home for lunch every day, rode bikes in the summer, and went sledding in the winter.  We played with our friends and cousins and adored our grandparents, who lived 20 minutes away. 

Robbie was buried in the same cemetery plot as my grandparents.  Clive and I visited it last month.

Growing Up

Rob earned merit badges as a Boy Scout and attended Floodwood Mountain wilderness camp.  He saved his allowance for his collections of baseball cards and Matchbox cars and trucks. 

In fourth grade, Rob wrote that his favourite foods were “eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, steak, roast beef, pot roast, chicken, turkey, lamb chops, pork chops, turnip, candy, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, cupcakes, and many other things. “

He liked to play Monopoly and Password, and watched “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on TV.  He made me laugh every time he imitated the sexy, female voice of another show, saying, “It’s Buuuurke’s Law.”

He took up drums in junior high and played them in his bedroom.  We formed a family orchestra with our cousins and performed “Happy Anniversary” for our grandparents’ 50th.

rob-and-carol

Like Father, Like Son?

At the end of 8th grade, Rob won a citizenship award for $25, which became part of his estate.  He was elected “Borough Attorney” in student government week and said he wanted to be a lawyer, like our father.

In high school he excelled in academics, played singles for the Varsity tennis team, and basketball in the Ho-Ho-Kus Recreational League.  He worked to earn money to buy his first car, a used Pontiac Firebird purchased the summer before he died.  He also bought a new snowblower, to continue his neighbourhood jobs.

A month before he died, Rob was accepted at University of Michigan, the school from which both our parents were graduated and where I was a happy senior.  Three days before his death, Rob was invited to the Michigan Honors Program.

What Might Have Been

I don’t know what Rob would have ultimately chosen as a career, or if he would have married and had children.  I think he would have.  I do know he would have been a brilliant uncle to my son, and joined me in providing practical and emotional support to both our parents.

My son is built like Rob and our father, tall and lanky.  Some of their personality traits are the same — intelligence, humour, and a certain impatience – and I enjoy seeing the family resemblances.

I Had a Brother

Whether moving to a new department, a new company, a new city, or a new country, it’s logical for people to ask, “Do you have any siblings?”

I learned early on that this question will never go away.  I always answer, “I had a brother, but he was killed in a car accident when he was in high school and I was in college.”

Many people have fallen out with their siblings, some for good reason.  But in my wildest imaginings, I can’t conceive of a situation in which Rob and I wouldn’t speak to each other.

 

Outside the House Where We Grew Up

Outside the House Where We Grew Up

Marker Days and Random Days

Because Rob and my uncle died on December 20, everyone says, “The holidays must be so hard.”  Well, yes and no.

There are ‘marker days’ with every death: birth date, death date, and special anniversary dates.  Dates do matter, but for me the holidays were and are easier, because they’re a time when families and friends traditionally get together and appreciate each other’s company.

I’ve always found the hardest days are those random ones when I see, hear, or remember something that reminds me of Rob.  For a long time, it hurt to see young girls with little brothers, because I had lost mine.  Now, when I see adults who have close sibling relationships, it brings back memories of my relationship with Rob, and a wish it could have continued.

Years Turn into Decades

Life is changed forever, time passes, and years turn into decades.

Every time I see a youth accident statistic, I know another family has been changed forever.  One of our closest family friends in Sydney lost their 20 year-old son three years ago, and I know from my experience they will never get over it.  Time helps, but it’s not a cure-all and the number of years is irrelevant.

When Clive and I went to Stop & Shop in October, I used my mother’s loyalty card, which prompted the check-out woman to ask, “Is your maiden name xxx?”  When I said yes, she said, “I went to school with Robbie.”

“Oh thank you,” I said.  “Thank you for telling me.”  I still love it when people talk about him, many years later.

Tall in Stature and Spirit

At age 17, Rob was 6’4” and used his height to his advantage on both the tennis and basketball courts.  His high school guidance counselor wrote, “Rob was a very tall boy who was as deep a person as he was tall.  For the short life he had, he lived it full and he lived it well.”

In Remembrance

Australians often remember their war dead using this stanza from “For the Fallen,” a World War I poem by Laurence Binyon:

  They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
  At the going down of the sun and in the morning
  We will remember them.

Here’s to you, Rob.  I remember you, and I miss you.

My Brother, Rob

My Brother, Rob

  Related post: Thoughts about Newtown on the Anniversary of My Brother’s Death 20 Dec 2012

15 Responses

  1. Such a lovely tribute to your brother…:-) I am sure he is smiling down at you, saying a big thank you.

  2. Thank you Carolyn for sharing Robbie with us. It is a very moving post and if they are out there I know they will be smiling. I now know how hard it is to see brothers and sisters together. One thing I do know is that ours were close, and like you and Robbie, would have stayed together through the thick and thin. But that was not to be. I guess we just have to try and cherise the moments together and remember them now they are no longer with us on earth.

  3. Lovely piece of writing, Carol. I’ve often thought about the things that might have been, particularly when I saw some of the bright boys who graduated from high school with Brian or Rebecca.
    It’s a great credit to your resourcefulness and strength of character because you have been the one who has been left behind more than once. I often think of Rob when I see the son of a friend of mine. His name is Carl and he is very bright and has just completed his first semester at Harvard. He plays the drums, although he doesn’t play tennis; he is a skateboarder.
    A nice tribute to a brother who shall always be forever young.

  4. Thank you so much, Anne, Martin’s mum, and Eleanor. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  5. I read this yesterday and was too moved to comment then. Your sweet tribute to your brother was so touching.

    The poem by Lawrence Binyon, “For the Fallen ” was composed on a cliff in Cornwall in 1914. My first picture with John was taken there. We often walk the path to the location marked by a plaque with the lines you quoted.

    John told me they are spoken at Remembrance Day services up and down the country every November and are probably the most famous lines of poetry in the UK.

    I’m sure I’ll think of your brother Rob now when we rest on the cliffs in the future. Thanks for sharing your tender story.

  6. So sad to loose loved ones, especially a family member. My only sister isn’t speaking to me at the moment. I’m just waiting her out hoping she will see how foolish she is being. We always promised each other that we’d be there at one or the other’s bedside when the end came. We will see. I’m glad you have warm memories of your brother.

  7. I found your blog from Eizabeth’s (Harper)
    I have just done a memorial blog too, to my Aunt, Jeanne Winchurch, who died almost sixty years ago. In her case, it was suicide following a tragic sequence of events after the second world war. I was only six at the time and obviously not as close to Jeanne as you were (are) to your brother, but she was my only and beloved aunt.
    As Elizabeth says we have stopped more than once by Laurence Binyon’s memorial plaque near Pentire Head in north Cornwall.
    Laurence died in 1943 and I don’t know if he ever knew how many millions of people his words would move.
    I have just added a photo of the plaque to my blog on Jeanne Marion Winchurch, if you care to take a look.
    Very Best Wishes

  8. In case you can’t link to it…
    direct link to my blog is
    http://jonvic42.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/the-faces-of-history-jeanne-marion-winchurch/

  9. Elizabeth and John, thank you for your kind comments. I am thrilled to see the plaque in Cornwall. Thanks for sharing those photographs.

    John, what an amazing story about your aunt. Might make a good book!

    Cheers.

  10. Carolyn — This is Tim Garrity. I arrived at your blog through a route that began with a group of Ho-Ho-Kus grads on Facebook. I’ve thought of Robbie often over the years and it was so startling, but good, to see his picture and to read such a loving tribute to him. He and I were friends through cub scouts and boy scouts. We went to Floodwood Mountain Reservation together, and we used to hang out in his room — he’d play the drums and I’d play the trumpet — you probably had to leave the house to get away from us. Your mom and my mom were friends. Do you remember Gloria Garrity? Your mom used to be involved with Cub Scouts and I remember we went to the 1964 World’s Fair together.
    Well, I remember your brother very fondly and want to say thanks for that lovely essay, and send you best wishes from one of his childhood friends. Tim

  11. Tim, what a wonderful surprise to see your name here. I can’t thank you enough for your comment – it brought tears to my eyes.

    Of course I remember you, as well as your dear mother and also Ann(e?) and your father. Those were precious days — cub scouts and families getting together and hanging out in Ho-Ho-Kus 🙂 I think I do recall the trumpet/drum combo on the 3rd floor of Gilbert Road!

    I appreciate so much your taking the time to share your memories of times spent with Rob.

    About your mom, she is/was (I’m sorry I don’t know if she’s still alive?) a beautiful person and my mom loved her – we all did. She gave me a pink straw sewing basket when I was a teenager and I still have it with me today — I use it regularly in Australia and always think of your mom when I do.

    Last year when my mom moved from Gilbert Rd. we talked about your mom and her beautiful artwork. I also remember your mom’s distinctive handwriting 🙂 as they exchanged letters and cards for many years. The last I/we knew, your mom was living near Anne in RI (?). My mom wasn’t sure if she was still alive now but she reminisced about your mom and what a dear friend she was.

    Your mom/parents were also a big reason our family discovered Kennebunkport and Goose Rocks Beach. (I wrote a post about the trolley museum there at https://mysydneyparislife.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/bittersweet-afternoon-at-the-east-anglia-transport-museum/

    I’m so happy the HHK Facebook group brought you here. Hope you and your family are well and thank you again, TIm, for your lovely comment.

  12. Hi Carolyn,
    I’m sorry to say my mom passed away last March. About 10 years ago, she and dad moved to Cheshire, CT, where they were near my sister Anne. They always missed Maine though. Dad said they’d been “deported.”

    Thanks for reminding me of your happy memories of my mother. She really new how to be a friend. For one thing, she was a great letter writer, and she was very generous.

    My wife and I live in Maine now, in Southwest Harbor, near Acadia National Park. We had a wonderful snow today and went for a ski for the first time this year. Best holiday cheer to you and yours,

    Tim

  13. Tim, I’m so sorry to learn of your mother’s death. She was a such a wonderful person (and letter-writer!). My belated but deepest sympathy to you and the family.

    How great you live in Maine — it’s such a beautiful part of the world.

    Enjoy and all the best – thanks again for visiting here.

  14. […] marks thirty-nine years since my brother Rob and my uncle Ted were killed in an automobile accident. As I remember and grieve for them, I also […]

  15. […] weep. We grieve. We mourn. Two days after my brother Rob and Uncle Ted were killed in an automobile accident, my mother said, ‘Don’t be angry with God […]

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