Sunday, June 27, 2010

Touchstones: Robert Lewis Brobst

One might think that an eighteen-year age difference would preclude any kind of real relationship—or friendship—between a brother and sister. At least in my case, this is not so. Love between my older brother Bob and I has embraced a series of events—or touchstones—where we have been there for each other in perhaps an even more durable way than siblings who are close in age might ever be.

It was the spring of 1954, and two very important events were supposed to happen almost simultaneously—my birth and Bob’s high school graduation. I won the race and arrived the end of April. Of course, I don’t remember this event, but I’ve heard the stories about how my dad was so happy to have another baby girl that he took me from my mother’s arms and rushed into the house to rock me while my brother Bob and sister Sue helped Mom into the house from the car.

Having been an older brother twice before—Sue was seventeen and Don was nine—Bob knew that babies spent an awful lot of time crying. With graduation ceremonies only three weeks away, he was worried.

“Mom, what if she cries during graduation?” Bob asked. “I’ll be so embarrassed.

"We’ll take care of it when the time comes,” our mother assured him.

But his concern was unfounded. Almost as if I knew the importance of staying quiet for him, I slept through the entire ceremony, well, like a baby.

After his graduation, Bob left home for awhile to attend training camp with the Washington Senators, a baseball farm team. I continued to sleep and grow and do all those things babies are wont to do. By the time he returned I was sitting up and starting to pay attention to the world around me. Bob must have spent a lot of time with me and made a huge impact on my life because my first recorded words that had meaning were. “Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob.”

Never was an older brother more proud than mine.

As a toddler, I spent time with my big brother and must have begun to believe he was mine—mine, mine, mine—like most two-year-olds believe of everything they see. If Bob went on a date with his girlfriend, then he owed me a date, too. Photographs of me sleeping on the living room floor prove that I would attempt to wait up for him for the promised trip to the A&W Root Beer stand once he got home. But gosh, anything after eight was just too late for a little girl like me to stay awake. Soon he learned to take me on my date before he left on another. This satisfied the little girl who adored her big brother.

I was four when Bob got married, but not to be outdone by the bride, I had a brand new blue satin dress made for the wedding. After all, my part was nearly as important as hers. I was the flower girl, and if I didn’t proceed down the aisle, dropping petals onto the white runner—and tossing a few toward the seats of close family—then the organist would never be able to play “Here Comes the Bride.”

The next year, Bob made me an aunt for the second time. (Sue's daughter, Connie, beat Bob's son, Tony, by two days.) I spent some of my own childhood with these two, trying to be a good aunt to babies who were closer in age to me than my own siblings, but Bob moved around a lot for the next several years and family gatherings—holidays, summer picnics, an occasional Sunday dinner, and relatives visiting from out of town—seemed to be the core of most memories.

As time passed, I became a teenager, old enough to babysit for Bob’s three boys for an entire summer, then in high school my summers became filled with marching band practice. Bob’s house was at the end of the practice field, and I often stopped in to say hello. Soon I was a high school graduate myself, with Bob and his family attending the ceremony. His youngest was six so I didn’t have to worry about the crying like Bob did with me. The events of our lives had come full-circle, and now I had at last caught up with the moment where he had been when we first started.

The next few years flew by with me off at college then into a teaching career, but visits home always included a few hours with my big brother. Out next touchstone moment was one of sadness, when in 1980, our dad unexpectedly passed away, and somehow the title “Head of the Family” was passed on to Bob. At the age of 44 he was now the one Mom, Sue, Don, and I looked to for comfort and wisdom. He became more than a brother—now he was like a dad as well. And that was a title he wore when at my own wedding he “gave the bride away.”

Since then, he’s been there through our adoption of five sons—willing to provide insight learned through the raising of three of his own—the death of our sister Sue, an illness of his own, his bright optimism continuing to guide the way for his baby sister as she faces the future that may someday come without him.

Yes, our life has been one of touchstones—birth, graduation, marriage, and death—but never once has the eighteen-year age gap made a difference. There’s something special that happens between brothers and sisters—a bond that doesn’t seem to match the one sisters have together. Maybe brothers and sisters are closer because there was never a need for rivalry. Maybe because they didn’t share clothing, rooms, or even crushes. Maybe because older brothers are a little protective. Whatever the reasons, brothers and sisters have a special love for one another—a love that can span the barrier of time, both in ages and across the years.

Those little touchstone moments—the quintessential parts—provide the safe places that make up the journey of family togetherness, and the basis of love that will last beyond life and into memories of generations though the ages.

October 2009
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli


Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

My brother Bob fell ill while on a fishing trip in Thunder Bay, Ont. Canada. He passed away peacefully on Sunday evening June 27, 2010.

Heather B. Moore said...

Lu Ann, I know I've read this tribute before, but it was wonderful to read it again.