"He's almost like a father to Rick." The words were not exactly what I wanted to hear. I hate it when people talk about me in my presence like I am not even there. My step-mother was referring to my oldest brother Art at my maternal grandmother's grave side service. As much as I didn't like the circumstances, the statement was true. My oldest brother had and still has a profound impact on who I am.
Elmer Arthur Robertson III was born twelve years before I met the world. The simple fact of the age difference affected me greatly. Having 4 older brothers distributed between 2 and 12 years older than me, made learning the "respect your elders" thing hard for me (I probably still haven't learned it to the satisfaction of those around me). Now, I have student teachers, supervisors, and even real teachers who are significantly younger than Art, or even John my next oldest brother. Then of course they (or other of your superiors) demand respect: you are supposed to call them Ms. Worely or Mr. Amey or Miss Freed or Mrs. Collins or Mrs. Wyant or Pastor Robinson or Mr. Cetera. I would just as soon call them Darcy or Mike or Janine or Jenny or Felica or Kyle or etc. (to name a few). This fundamental age difference makes it easy for me to place myself in sticky situations with authority figures, young and old.
Art affected the way I viewed Academy life as well. He created a kind of mythological picture of what it was like by stories like this: One day they decided to play a trick on Mr. Crounse the history teacher. There was a kid who sat at the back of the room that was naturally fidgety and constantly moving. At the front of the room (which is now Mr. Sheppard's) there is a flag sticking out from the wall. So Art and his pals went into the room when no-one was around and tied a piece of fishing line to the flag. From thence, the line proceeded up to the ceiling and above the suspended tiles to the back of the room above the fidgety kid's seat, where it hung down to the desk. The next day they went into class as normal, but partway through the lecture, the kid gave the line a slight jerk. Mr. Crounse noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye, but continued teaching. A little later another slight jerk was applied to the line. After the flag performed a few spectacular jumps, Mr. Crounse turned around and looked at it funny for a few seconds. I never heard the conclusion of the story or whether he ever figured it out. But when one is young and impressionable, the end doesn't matter, it is the story that counts, especially when it is coming from your oldest brother. He created other images as well by telling how fun Mr. Baker's classes were/are and putting the sofa in his (Bake's) room after the school play. Having older brothers go before me gave me an idea, albeit a kind of myth, of what Andrews Academy would be like, and affected how I dealt with the teachers of whom I had heard so much about.
Art really was like a father to me in some ways. When he came back for visits after moving out he would always make a little time to do something with me. When he returned from the Gulf War, he decked me out in the Iraqi clothes and equipment he had brought back with him. Then he came out to Eau Claire, where I was in grade school, played with us at recess, and then gave us a little talk about the Middle East, the war, and its causes. This fall at the end of the quarter during test week he was in town for Christmas. I called him at his wife's parent's house and told him to come to my Art of Biography and Autobiography final, as it was a Baker class. At the end of class he came walking in and surprised Mr. Baker, continuing his tradition as one of the all-time top Bake botherers. Now Art is about to become a real father, but in a few ways, he acted as my father, taught me many things, and affected my life as few others have.
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