May 14, 2020
Earlier this morning my sister, Joyce, called to report that our brother Bill – William Robert Weisgerber – died this morning.
He was six years older than me. Seven years older than Joyce.
Aloof and mysterious to me as a younger brother all my life.
We were never close. The age difference was too great when we were younger. That simple fact became embedded in our relationship though our lives. It was too great to overcome.
We connected through Mom and sometimes, Dad but mostly through Mom. When Mom passed away a couple years ago the connection was completely broken. And yet, I found the need to connect. It was a unilateral need. A guilt really, maybe. It is hard to explain. Maybe no explanation is required.
When I was very young, we lived on Bach Ave. Some pronounced it “batch”. Mom pronounced it bock, like in Johann Sebastian Bach. It was a three story house. My brother’s room was the whole third floor. Neat!
Once, Johnny Deering and I were learning chemistry in the front yard with some matches. We were secret about it. We had selected the front hill behind the privet hedges to experiment with our new found knowledge. Bill noticed what we were doing which was mostly striking matches and watching them burn up. Sometimes we let one light another. We found out dirt won’t burn easily and ants dislike fire.
From an early age Bill understood the chain of command. He reported to Mom. Mom appeared at the front door. All experiments were terminated that day.
In another flashback memory, my brother is standing in front of the downstairs bathroom mirror with blood running down his chin. Mom is there cleaning a wound just below his lip made by some obstruction as he was sled riding down a hill with his buddies. He had several of these wounds on his face. I guess he never looked away from danger or a challenge.
Dad and Bill were ham radio buffs. So was I but I was six years behind. I still tried to participate in the mystery discussions about the nuances of using this amplifier tube versus that one in some circuit they were working on. What’s a tube? An old way of doing things. In retrospect, I probably spent more timing hanging with Dad in the basement. But by that time Bill was out of the house mostly and Mom had moved us from the Bach Ave house to Eastwood Circle.
He went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts at MIT. That one single fact makes my brother a very smart guy in my mind. But then I have always thought that. It may be a pedestal that he did not deserve but as the younger brother I looked up at him physically for about seventeen years and that continued even though I surpassed him in height.
To explain our relationship, I often told the story that He never really spoke to me much before I was eighteen and he was getting married to Judy. I thought but never knew for sure that Mom told him to ask me to be in his wedding. I still don’t know but our relationship changed after this event. We became distant friends.
Life and family is complicated and tenuous. Certain things are constants. We become comfortable with those constants. And then we find out that they are variables after all with a long time constant. Like mountains however, they move and wear and change. It just takes a long time for the change to be noticeable. If something changes suddenly, like a landslide, everything is wobbly for awhile. Its hard to get a grip on the world again.
When a sibling family member dies the others are left with the reality of death. Death is as natural as life. But still there is a kind of aloneness, not loneliness, something is missing. You can not quite put your finger on it. There is a gap, a hole, a missing part.
Bill called me in 1994 after I had been terminated from my job with a small adhesive application equipment company. I had been the controls engineering manager there after I left Cincinnati Milacron and embarked on the rest of my life. I do not remember him calling me much. It was the other way around in my memory. So, his call was a surprise.
He called me, he said to offer some advice. He said, ” You have to decide what you are going to charge.” ‘Charge for what?’ I replied. They are going to trip over some problem that they will need you to fix, because they did not know they had it. Something you would have just handled. They will try to get you to do it for nothing but its a temp job. Figure out how much you are going to charge to fix their problem.
Every worker should be fired at some point in their life. It is not very much fun while it is happening but it is an excellent learning experience. You get down on yourself. What did I do wrong? How will I go on? If you are part of the engineering staff of a company, you often operate under the illusion that you are part of the management cadre. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are a worker bee like everyone else. Your work however is to think, design, plan and create the product.
Bill’s little advice made me realize my value. Anything I did had a price. And that price was value for my time, experience, problem solving ability, cleverness and elegance of design. More importantly that price included time away from things, family, people and situations that might be more important to me than doing some job that the only tangible benefit was a pay check. He had put it in perspective. Life is too short.
Next time you are in a cemetery read the stones. Find one that says, Great Designer!, Great Mechanic! Best Marketing Director, or Superb at Middle Management. Good luck. Go back and look for Father, Grandfather, Mother, Nana, Mom, Dad or Wife. Which was easier to find? Life has priorities. Do not loose track of their precedence.
Another story; Joyce calls me one day. “What do you think about Mom?”
me: I don’t know. What are you talking about?
Joyce: I think Mom is depressed. She seems off.
Me: Oh you mean that. Here’s what I think, Joyce. If Mom stays in her house, she will be with us for another year. maybe two. If we get Mom to move to some assisted living situation or at least somewhere there is some social engagement she will be with us for four maybe five years. What did you have in mind?
Joyce: That’s what I think too. Let’s see if we can get Mom to move to Seasons. I’m coming to Cincinnati.
Me: What about Bill? Last time we did this we almost had Mom there in Amberlawn and then Bill told it didn’t seem like a good place.
Joyce: You call Bill tell him to tell Mom he loves the place and it would be a good move.
And so it came to pass that I was responsible for telling my big brother that he did not know what was best for Mom. Joyce and I did. His only job was to cooperate and rave about the new digs we wanted to get Mom into.
In a fairly long phone conversation I became aware of the fact that he had no idea of the power of his opinion. Two thousand attaboys from Joyce and I were wiped out by one simple aweshit. It need not be a full aweshit, it could merely be a I dunno Mom.
I carefully explained to him he was the firstborn son. The only progeny with substance of thought and consideration. No other children’s opinions were of import. And he was in Florida. I was in Ohio. Or bring Mom to Florida to live. I could go visit. Joyce lived in Oregon. She could visit either place.
I could have kissed him for the rave reviews he gave Seasons community. He actually said, “Seems pretty nice, Mom. I could live here.” So we got Mom to move and she lived about five more years. Not all at Seasons but it was a beginning. It worked out.
For that I will always be thankful to Bill and amazed that he had no idea of his influence.
Families are complicated. Sibling relationships are complicated. Thanks for sharing this.