The first thing my kids did upon waking today is dump the contents of their pumpkin buckets and begin sorting the candy. It’s the day after Halloween. That’s what you do.
As I watched them divvying their candy into groups, I was reminded of my brother Rob. Chris and I were the piggies who gorged ourselves on all the “good” candy right away. When we were down to the smarties and sweet tarts and horrible peanut butter toffee in orange and black paper, we’d have to come up with a new plan to score more chocolate. This is where Rob would come in.
Rob was the kid who savored his candy, hiding it away in a shoebox so that he had candy for weeks after our stashes were gone. We’d take him our offerings of lesser candy and attempt to negotiate a trade. He’d accept our offers of ten smarties for one fun-sized chocolate bar, and thus keep his stash going that much longer. In the realm of children, he was building a candy empire.
This might make Rob sound like some sort of Scrooge meets Donald Trump, but that was and is not the case. Rob is older than me and got a job before I did. When you live in a house of six kids, you grow up working for what you want.
We always had food on the table, clothes on our backs, and all our other needs met. But we didn’t have the luxury many kids (including mine) experience today. Every few days my boys come to me with pleading eyes and say “we haven’t gotten anything new in forever,” (except for whatever new toy or book or trinket I bought them the day before which was immediately forgotten.) In our house growing up, toys came twice a year- Christmas and your birthday. If you wanted something extra, you had to figure out a way to earn it.
Rob knew I was too young to get a job, but that I wanted money. He hired me to clean his room, and he’d pay me $5 a week. The thing is, Rob’s room was spotless. The only thing I really did was make his bed, and he would have been happy to complete that task himself. I don’t know that I understood it then, but looking back, the only reason he entered into the employment agreement was to help me out.
I always played on basketball teams when I was younger. I was obsessed with becoming the female version of Larry Bird. My mom had bought me a new pair of basketball shoes, perfectly acceptable shoes by adult standards. By kid standards, they would never do. They were Pro Wings or some equally lower end brand, and as we all know, children will never fail to point out these details.
It again went back to the six kids thing. If you have six children, I doubt you are going to spend $100+ on shoes for each of them, when in all likelihood, they will not fit two months later. Heck, I have two kids and I see the logic in that. But I did not want to have to step on the court each day to cat calls of “Nice Pro Wings!”
Rob had bought a new pair of Reeboks for himself, a more expensive and kid acceptable brand. We had a similar size shoe at that time. He let me wear those Reeboks for my basketball season so I wouldn’t get made fun of.
Growing up in a small town can be both magical and horrific. The jokes about everyone knowing everyone else’s business in a small town are absolutely true. If you are having a problem at school, there is no hiding yourself in a crowd. That problem will be pointed out and magnified to you at least ten times a day.
But Rob is the one who keeps the magical times alive and lets the next generation of Forsythes experience that world. One of the best parts about rural communities is the access to land, and thus exploration. We grew up with fields to wander in. My mom could poke her head out the window, see and hear us five acres away and go back in the house. That is a freedom most children will never experience. We picked wildflowers, captured lizards, swam and fished in ponds. It was the idyllic picture of childhood you see in movies and picture books.
As an adult, Rob invited the entire family over for a barbecue. Something he has done on many occasions. I was married, but didn’t have any kids at the time, but my siblings had children.
I watched my nieces ride four wheelers around the field, reliving memories vicariously through them. As kids, we had a couple of small motorcycles, and my dad taught all of us to ride them. Racing through the track we created in the fields, going fast- that was ultimate freedom.
Rob had a barn filled will all kinds of random stuff. We spent the afternoon rummaging through the stacks, looking for treasures. I found a clarinet in there! Chickens wandered around at our feet, running and clucking as we tried to catch them. The kids (and maybe a few of the adults) jumped on a trampoline.
This past summer, we rented a house in Wyoming that had a trampoline right next to the field. Kellen still asks when we are going back to that house. I don’t blame him. What could be better than looking out and looking upon grass for seemingly endless miles, whiles soaring into the air and falling into a pile of laughter?
I am so thankful for Rob for giving those experiences to my nieces, nephews and sons, even if just for a few afternoons now and again. That life is part of my soul. It shaped who I am. To be able to share it with Liam and Kellen is more valuable than any gift I could buy them, although it may take them a few decades to realize it.
I love you, Robbie. Yes, you will always be Robbie to me. Thanks for being a great big brother.