The bus stopped in front of the old brick building…three stories tall with the flag pole standing proudly out front. There was laughter and pushing as we all rushed to get off the bus. It was the first day of school…and for me, my first day of Junior High. I really had no idea what to expect what I certainly had my reservations. I had always liked school and my early elementary at the Old Farmin School had been filled with wonderful memories. However, the two years at New Farmin had been difficult. My assimilation hadn’t been smooth and the friendships that had been nurtured during my first four grades had all but disappeared. Kids from some of the other elementary schools had joined us during those two years and it seemed I didn’t fit. I didn’t realize until Junior High that part of the reason that fifth and sixth grade were difficult socially is because “he” wasn’t there.
I don’t think that he knew the anxiety that I had about another school. We didn’t have the same kind of relationship that Geoff and I had. He was two years older, while Geoff and I were only thirteen months. Frank had already found himself working away from the farm by the time he reached his freshman year and had begun to “grow up”. While he still occasionally took the time to play with Geoff and me at this point, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. He still shared the same bedroom with us, but he no longer slept in the bunk beds. His bed was set on one side of the bedroom as a single, while Geoff and I had a double bunk.
I watched as he and his friends walked with ease up the front steps in a manner that let you know that they had been here before. This was their school and they were comfortable. The heads of the ninth grade girls turned to watch as he made his way to the front door…a burst of giggles and heads wagging as they watched him disappear. I walked with uncertainty, following the other kids as we made our way inside to find assigned lockers and classrooms. The hallways were crowded and I was greeted with bumps and shoves and the dreaded “Hey Sevy…get out of the way!” as I scurried to the edge of the hallway to accede to their demands with the other seventh graders.
I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but it was early in the school year. It was down on the first floor…on the gym level and one of the ninth graders on the football team with Frank walked by me and gave me a kidney punch. I don’t think I had ever felt anything so painful in my life! Even the spankings and willow switch never felt like this. Tears immediately welled in my eyes as I hunched over…gasping to catch my breath. I tried to straighten up and keep moving, not wanting him to see my pain and my fear. A moment or two later, he saw me and could see that something was amiss.
He walked over and moved me to the side of the hallway and asked what was wrong. At first, I just stood there quietly…trying to hold back the tears and accomplished it with some success. I didn’t want to be a “tattle-tale” and stood there with my eyes on the floor. Again, he asked what happened. I finally told him what had just occurred in the hallway and after some prodding, gave him the name of the kid who had hit me. I could see the anger flash in his eyes as he stood there and listened. It was almost as if I could see his mind saying “this is family, and no one does this to my brother!” I don’t have any idea what Frank did, but the kid never bothered me again. Even when I passed him in the hallways, he seemed to move away from me instead of closer and his eyes would look furtively around…perhaps checking to see if he might be watching.
As I moved through junior high, it seemed that Frank was there for me in one way or another. By the time my eighth grade year ended, he had his own car and was able to drive at night. I was still without my driver’s license and it seemed part of his mom-assigned “job” was to occasionally be a taxi. It was the last day of school before summer vacation and I had been invited to my first “party”…and there would be girls there. While I didn’t have a “date” date, I was going to be meet a girl there and mom and dad had graciously allowed me to go. The only caveat was that Frank would need to pick me up at 10:00 at the end of the party and bring me home. He told mom that it would be no problem and it was all set. He would come by the place of the party and pick me up.
The party ended as planned and parents began to arrive at the large house and pick everyone up. Everyone that is…except me. I waited for a little bit and Holly’s dad asked if I had a ride coming and I assured him that I did. I wasn’t sure where Frank was, but I had complete confidence that he would be there to pick me up. The minutes passed and I began to walk out toward the road at the end of the driveway. This place was set back a few hundred yards and it was possible that Frank had passed it by and I thought it would be easier for him if I got out on the main street. I stood there for a few minutes as I watched for a headlight, confident with the knowledge that behind a set of one of those lights, my brother would be coming for me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Frank had forgotten. He had been out on a date of his own and had gotten all the way home and had gone in to tell mom that he was home. It was only when she asked if I had fun at the party that he realized that I was someplace about ten miles away and not down in the bedroom where I belonged. He told her a quick “yes” and quietly opened the front door and went out to his car. Taking the car out of gear and leaving the lights off, he pushed it to the end of the driveway and let it coast to the bottom of the hill before starting it and waited until he was at the highway before turning on his lights.
I had walked several miles by the time he finally pulled up beside me and told me to jump in. His apology flowed from his lips and came more than once. I wasn’t greeted with a feeling of putting him out or of being an inconvenience. He was genuinely sorry that he had let me know. We talked about the party on the way home and I shared that I had my first “real” kiss. We pulled into the driveway with the lights out and quietly walked to front door. We were somewhat shocked to see mom standing there and she kissed me good night and talked briefly with Frank before he too went to bed.
As I look back on those days, it’s easy to see how often he was there for me. Frank opened many doors for me that I know were closed to him. And it seemed that whatever he did, I wanted to do as well. I followed in his footsteps in football as well as wrestling. The classes that he took, I wanted to take too. He wrote for the school newspaper so I enrolled in the class my sophomore year. It was the only class that we shared in high school. His participation in student leadership encouraged me to try it out as well. I will always be grateful for his presence as a part of my life, for his generosity and for his support.