Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Good Man

Siblings: Bill, Richard & Ruth

My brother just left this life. Another truly good man has passed on.

Brothers are many things. Siblings squabble as they compete for attention with parents and with the world. But this particular brother was special and occupied a special place in my life. He was the most important man in my life.

We were part of a dysfunctional family. My father was unable to cope with being a husband and a father. So, he drank, often and to excess. My Mother was left to cope with her three children and her aging parents. When he was home, he was unpleasant, so when he left, which was most of the time, we all breathed easier.

My sister was ten years older, and so she seemed part of another generation. So, my brother took over as the man in my life. We lived in Manhattan. My Mother worked to support us, and my brother and I were like Don Quixote (Bill) and Sancho (me), tilting at windmills all over the city by ourselves. When he went to Central Park, he took me along. Sometimes, we actually fished in Central Park Lake. We played in the streets, stickball, or War, or marbles, using the sewer grates as the marble home.

Bill played baseball and basketball,. And he dragged his little brother along with him to watch. Once, we went swimming at some public pool uptown, and someone stole our clothes. We walked back to our Second Avenue flat, in wet bathing suits to await the return of our Mother.

If I ever tried to do something stupid, as little brothers are wont to do, he stopped me, acting as my protector. We played together at home after school, sometimes dueling, playing our game of war. Other times, we sat quietly, listening to The Shadow, or Inner Sanctum, or the Jack Benny show on our radio in the front room.

No one in our family had ever advanced beyond high school—most never finished high school. Bill was admitted to Stuyvesant, a competitive school for very bright kids. When my Mother moved us out of New York City to a little community in Rockland County, Bill moved too, despite having to leave Stuyvesant. We lived in a little house, a one-time tiny community clubhouse that my carpenter grandfather turned into a two bedroom home. While my Mother continued to work in Manhattan, my ne’er do well father was supposed to be caring for us and working in the area. One morning, a cold winter’s morning, after the oil heater failed, he just left his two sons alone, in a cold house, as he could no longer cope. My brother coped, and my Mother came to our rescue, as she always did.

Bill finished high school in Spring Valley. He graduated early, at age 16. He decided that he was too young to go to college, so he went to work for a year. Then he was admitted to college, and worked full time while he attended school full time. He married before completing college, but he finished and went on to complete graduate school in chemistry. He was a determined young man, determined to succeed in a world that valued achievement. He achieved.

But in his striving for success, he never forgot to be a brother, and a husband and a father. He was devoted to his wife and his children, til the last breath took him from us. And he received love in return. He died in the arms of his family, at home, where he wanted to be. He is gone now, physically, but he lives on in my mind— and in the minds of his loved ones--my memory bank is full of good memories. They remain vivid. A brother who fulfilled and surpassed my needs and my expectations of a loving, caring brother, and mentor. I miss him, but I hold him close.

I add below some very old pictures, of days past, mostly happy memories of a baby, a young boy, a young man. he may be out of our reach, but he is very much within our memory banks.

Bill and our grandma Schmidt, by The East River

Bill was a secular humanist, but earlier, a choir boy, with sister Ruth:

Bill, maybe age six, with sister Ruth and GP Inglis in Brooklyn, circa 1937:

Bill and Richard, swimming  in New City park Lake, circa 1946?

Bill, Richard & Mother Daisy

And Bill as a young married man, with Edythe, baby Claudia and the Schmidt clan.

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