The Oklahoma City Fire Department had to come and get him down from his stranded perch, up high in an oak tree when he was six years old. That gave us ten more years with him.
Mom gave birth to six of us. I was first and he was two-and-a-half years behind me. Mom had us in twos, a boy and a girl in each duo. I don’t know how she managed that, but she did.
My earliest memories are about his birth and homecoming, so in my mind there was never a time when he wasn’t there. He was my partner and we cavorted through our childhood together.
And I do mean cavorted.
I protected Bobby and taught him everything I knew. I taught him how to walk, how to “write” secret messages on the underside of the dining room table, and then how to “read” them.
“Bussa, bussa bussa!” I would say with great expression, as I “read” my cursive scribbling.
I taught him to ride his bicycle by riding on the back of it with him peddling furiously. It took me a while to convince him that he could do it without me because I was not touching the ground or holding him up in any way.
When I was seven we moved into a duplex at the end of a road. After the road ended there was a wide gully and then a great expanse of land. Behind the house were a steep hill, a rock wall that stood over twice as tall as we were, and an empty field. The aforementioned gigantic climbing tree was in that field.
“Don’t EVER go in that gully! Bad people hide in there! Some bank robbers blew up a safe in there recently and a little girl drowned in the stream down there last year! And see that big cement pipe under the dirt road?”
(It was so big that I could stand in it and put my arms up and stand on my tippy-toes and I couldn’t reach the top.)
“Well now and then, without any warning what so ever, a huge wall of water will wash through there and drown you in the blink of an eye!”
Bobby and I looked at each other with our eyebrows raised high, and our mouths in the shape of an O, barely able to contain our excitement. All of this and there was a little door that allowed us to crawl under the house! What magical place have we chanced upon!
We couldn’t wait to go in that gully! We crept down there that very day. It opened up new ways to have daring adventures. At first we hovered on the edges of the little stream that trickled out of the big cement pipe, waiting anxiously for a wall of water to spontaneously come whooshing out. We stared in amazement and awe at the stream, imagining the body of the little girl. After a few days Bobby dared me to run through to the other side of the big pipe. I ran in about five feet and then ran screaming back out, my heart pounding.
We got braver each day and soon were running all the way through, and yeah, even sitting in it when it was dry.
It was the same with the gully. Each day we ventured farther into the tangle of brush. Once we found a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. This caused us to giggle uncontrollably at the prospect of someone naked in our gully. There was a rumor that a gun was found, but we figured our mother started that.
We soon had a fort/camping site built deep in the trees and bushes. It was heaven! The fact that our sister, Barbie, was born that year gave us the prolonged freedom that only a too busy mother can give.
The steep hill at the end of our driveway that led down to the field was an adventure in itself. I recall a time when I dared Bobby to ride our homemade scooter down the hill. He was afraid (or smarter than I) so I said, “OK, you sissy, I’ll ride it down!” I still have the scar from that ride.
Because of our hill, snow was both welcomed (for sledding) and dreaded. (We had to conquer it in order to get to school and then back home again.) In all weather, we had to go down this hill, cross the field, go up a small incline to a rutted dirt path, that went over the gully, to get to school. Bobby and I always walked together. It would have been scary without him.
The gully years offered up an escaped leopard, a rabid dog, and a suspected child snatcher, along with it’s smattering of small-time criminals. What more could two reckless cavorters ask for!
As we grew older, our interests began to deploy in different directions. However, we still slept together on Christmas Eve, snuggled under the covers listening to carols on the radio. There are certain times when one just needs a brother.
Later came the coming of age years when we alternately teased, argued with, and tried to ignore each other. At least I tried to ignore him.
One summer he and his friend built a radio station out in the washhouse behind the garage. Bobby sneaked upstairs to my bedroom where I was sleeping and tuned my radio in to their station and tippy-toed back down to the washhouse.
A gregarious radio voice soon brought me from a dead sleep to my feet.
“It’s a beautiful summer morning here in Ada, Oklahoma! You’re listening to WLXT. Here is a request for my sister, Lynn!” And “Twist and Shout” began to play. I thought I had slipped into some parallel universe.
That was the year that Bobby grew tall and handsome. I can still see him standing at the ironing board struggling to press his “wheat jeans.” Mom had just given birth to our brother, Mikey. Bobby couldn’t believe his good fortune to have this tiny baby to carry around and cuddle and kiss. He adored Mikey. He gravitated to him as soon as he walked in the door from school. They had serious “talks.”
I started college. Our president was soon to be assassinated. Our comfort in the sureness of life was shaken. But not as shattered as it soon would be.
That spring on the day before Easter, Bobby and his friend Dennis drove to Lake Texoma Lodge to apply for jobs for the coming summer. On their way home they were hit by a southbound Frisco freight train at an unguarded crossing. I am sure they were happy and had the radio turned up nice and loud. They got the jobs.
Two weeks later his new driver’s license came in the mail. He had lived for sixteen years and nineteen days.