He got the happy gene

My brother Bob just had to be first this time. The first of six siblings to die. He left us sad and sad and oh so sad. Because he had the happy gene.

I’d like to take credit for knowing that he had the happy gene, but really it was a sister-in-law who said it. The primaries in the family, my brothers and I, would never say that. At least out loud. We are a cranky, grumpy lot with varied levels of mental health. But Bob, he had the happy gene. He always smiled, and he would laugh out loud at our foibles. He was gentle and sweet. Even when he was slugging it out with the other boys as they passed through the teens in our turbulent household.

As the rest of us watched for moods and shifting tides rumbling through the family, he just went along. He avoided a lot of the turbulence as he kept his own counsel and he smiled. At everyone. As a young man, he faced the Vietnam Era with grace and courage. After watching two of his brothers taken away by the draft, he tried to follow them, but to no avail. There wasn’t a place for his gentle soul in that man’s army. So he did what he needed to do. He went to live with a family with a critically ill son and saw his friend through.

His move took him to a quieter, different Ohio where people lived in a world apart from the one we knew. He married a young woman in a tiny Mennonite church. He smiled at me even when I showed up at the wedding in the tiniest of bright green polyester dresses with more leg showing than the women of the church would ever deem suitable. I was his baby sister, bad attitude and all.

He and his beloved bore three children of their own. When his first born cried through the first year of his life, Robert never showed impatience nor frustration. While our house wasn’t the ideal place to learn to be a father, he chose to be a really good one on his own.

He took his small family and moved to another state for awhile. That was courageous and exotic. See, we are Ohioans. That was pretty big stuff. But he came back to raise his kids. Not in Central Ohio where we mill about, but in Northern Ohio where it’s a whole different world. He taught us about “lake effect” snow and how silly it was to drive three hours away knowing there would be an avalanche in your lawn later that day.

He and his wife made chocolates. They made zillions of chocolates. And they brought them to us as treats every year at Christmas. Everyone had their favorites and he brought us buckets to take them home in. Buckets of chocolates.

Bobby hit his stride with the birth of his granchildren. He was playmate and confidant and after those children came along, he was all theirs. They lived in their own little world that grandpa and his babies. His view of the world around him was through their eyes and they will miss him fiercely.

Quietly and with great love, he was a member of the Lion’s Club for 25 years. His interest, this man who never owned a dog, was in supporting the Pilot Dogs program. He gave so much to give sight to others. I think it must have been because the world he looked at with his beautiful blue eyes was one that pleased him.

As a little girl, I had baby sister crushes on my handsome older brothers. I thought he looked like Little Joe Cartwright and I shamelessly used his shoulders to give me a view of the world from six feet up. My four older brothers tolerated my reign and perhaps they still do. I’ll never be the same without him. He had the happy gene.


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