By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
It is an unfortunate fact that oftentimes in life we don’t let people know how we feel about them until we’re delivering their eulogy. We assume, we presume, we procrastinate. And then we end up saying something to the effect of, “Gee, I never told him how I really feel about him.”
Fortunately this will not be the case for my brother Bob. Our entire family gathered this past weekend to celebrate his 70th birthday and as all our family gatherings tend to be, it was filled with laughter, good story-telling (mostly true but not always), and some sentimental tears. One of Bob’s daughters arranged for 70 different people to write a tribute to him. As he reads them hopefully he will realize that from the time he was a small boy until today, he has been a much-admired person. We should all be so lucky to have an experience such as this. So with your indulgence, my blog today is an edited version of my tribute to Bob…a truly great brother.
I can’t believe you are 70 years old today! Boy, you are OLD. But, make no mistake, in very good shape. For your age…and considering that your hips and knees are shot. And we don’t even want to think about your liver. But today we mark this important milestone and let you know how very special you are. I’m sure you will get lots of notes and cards from family and friends to mark this significant birthday. But only one person can tell you what a great big brother you have been – and that’s me.
Our relationship started out a bit rocky. After all, I was the interloper who caused you, at age 7, to go from the baby of the family to the middle child. So you did what all big brothers do with pesky younger sisters – you figured out ways to torment me.
As adults, however, we found a lot of common ground. We both have a reverence for books and, of course, enjoy writing. But first and foremost is our shared sense of humor. We both think we’re pretty funny, which is good because sometimes other people don’t. Pop was a big influence on us, of course, but you always added a wry spin to a story or took pleasure in the outrageous. I still laugh when I think about the messages you used to leave at my office. Like the one you left when I was well into middle age: “Please tell Suz that her A.A. meeting tonight has been cancelled.” I explained to my secretary, “That’s just my brother – he has a very funny sense of humor.” I’m not sure she ever saw me in quite the same way again.
As I thought about my lifetime of memories with you, there are two stories from our childhood that kept coming back to me. I think that’s because these two stories, of you as a boy, portend the wonderful man you would become.
The first story is actually my first memory in life, in 1954 or 55. The three of us were in the backseat of Dad’s station wagon, on our way to Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. As Playland came into sight, you suddenly shot up out of your seat and shouted, “Look! There it is!! We’re here!” I was so surprised by your sudden movement and unbridled enthusiasm that even today the memory of it is fresh. Once there you soaked it all in – Laughing Sal, the Fun House, the carnival rides and the shooting galleries. You even gave me one of your prizes. On the way home you were completely satisfied – you had been someplace exciting and done something fun. Today, you are still that boy, enthused about travel, excited to go someplace new, and still generous in spirit.
My second memory is of an event a few years later. I had committed some infraction and was sent up to my room without dinner. I was scared to be alone, but I trudged up the stairs and heaved myself onto my bed, sobbing. A short while later you came to my room, carrying a bowl of soup. I cried on your shoulder, scared to be alone while you were all downstairs eating. Then you noticed that an ant had crawled onto my hand. You watched as it crawled around my fingers and you assured me it would stay with me and be my friend. But you were wrong. My friend in the room that day was you. All throughout your life you have been a good friend to many people, but no one has been more appreciative of your friendship than me. Today, you continue to be thoughtful and caring, especially with children, whether it is through your work at Ronald McDonald House, your CASA companion, or your own grandchildren, Dylan and Emma.
All of my life you have been a constant source of support, whether in times of joy or times of trouble, to offer perspective and humor, kindness and help. We are all so lucky – we three – to have each other not only as siblings but as friends. To want to spend time together and savor each moment. And in part that is due to you, the middle child, the glue that keeps the three parts together.
As much as I love to write, I will never be able to find the words to adequately express how very much you mean to me. Just know that I love you with all of my heart and that you have been a very positive influence in my life. I am so very lucky to have you as a big brother.
Happy 70th Birthday, Bob!