This week my brother Bill (William
Wallace Scott) will turn 48 years old. I
have not seen him since early in the
year 1992, when we visited in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was living then.
Sometime later that year, he got fed up with the odd mix of sibling rivalry and family angst that had come to typify communication among
the four of us children as we were moving into our thirties and fourties. Our brother Bill made it clear to each
of us that he was no longer interested
in hearing from any of us, and after a
few years he moved to a new town and it
became impossible to contact him at all.
It would be easy enough to blame our
parents for the emotional baggage that
my two brothers, my sister, and I have
carried with us during the 33 years
since our mother and father died in
the crash of our family plane at an
airport in central Kansas.
They were very serious about religion. We attended church and Sunday school twice every Sunday. We were not allowed
to play with friends or do any activity
related to the secular world on that day each week. My brother Bill and I
used to create Super 8 movies about
Bible stories, which was permitted.
At the same time, our parents gave us
so much love. My mother cooked wonderful
meals every day. My father worked hard,
but still had time to help us on math
and science homework. Our mother read
to us a lot when we were young, and
would look over our English papers before we turned them in for grades.
Bill had an experience he and I used
to talk about, which was when he had
had a big argument with our Mom about
something and so called Dad at work. Dad
took about an hour to listen to Bill's
feelings on the phone, even though there
were patients waiting for appointments.
This happened less than half a year before our folks had their plane accident.
When we all were suddenly thrown into a
new way of life, without our parents to
accompany us, it affected each of the
four of us differently. My sister, the
eldest, had already established her life
outside the home, in another city, so the year she came back to watch over us
was kind of a detour in her development.
My older brother had just recently finished college and started working,
so his memories of conflicts between
himself and our parents--especially
our father--were very fresh. One time
he related to the rest of us how affected he was by the memory of the
last time he said good-bye to our
Dad, and Dad embraced him with that bear
hug all of us well remember.
Becoming an adult was, in our family, a
true rite of passage, with months and
years of testing your will against your
parents' wills. My older brother and sister
had come through the other end of that
experience, intact, yet bearing the scars
of their struggles.
Bill and I, on the other hand, did not
go through this "baptism of fire," because
we were in high school when our parents
died. But we also benefited from what
they had learned in the process of raising
our older brother and sister. Although our
home environment was controlled by strict
moral standards and behavioral rules, we
and our human spirits were treated much
more gently than theirs had been.
Yet there was something different about
Bill. He is a very creative person and
is especially protective of his individual
freedom and privacy. In junior high, a
teacher told him to stop shuffling his
feet as he walked in the hallway, and
my brother answered, "You can't tell me
how to walk."
He also loved performing in theatrical
productions, so, wherever he is now, I am
certain he is involved in community theater.
He is very outgoing socially, perhaps the
one of us four who most takes after our
mother's natural gregariousness.
This is why he is so missed by everyone
in the family as the years go by and we
pass through the rituals and ceremonies
of life that always evoke reflection. A
short decade ago, Bill could not be contacted
when the father of our older brother's wife
passed away. At Christmas celebrations with
that family for many years, Bill was the
life of the party and had an especially
close rapport with these in-laws. It was
extremely sad that he could not be found
when the family would have appreciated his
presence and solidarity.
More recently, an uncle of ours--one of my
mother's five brothers--passed away, and
it filled me with remorse that I had no
news of Bill to share with relatives gathered
for that funeral.
In truth, a situation like this brings
with it feelings of guilt. Did I not listen
enough to my brother when he was willing
to communicate? Did we inspect the progress
of his development as a young adult too
closely, and not allow him enough emotional
space to find his way on his own terms?
The experience over the years with my brother
Bill also suggests lessons for me as a teacher.
How often today are students' difficulties
in learning considered to be problems that
are located in them rather than in the fit
between them and the curriculum? How much of
the informal conversation between teachers
amounts to rationalizing our own failures
by blaming the students? How many times did
I have a conversation with my older brother
or sister in which it was more important to
me to seem better adjusted or more aware than
our younger brother, instead of learning more
about his experiences of life?
There was a church camp we used to go every
summer for one week near Estes Park, Colorado.
Bill and I attended every year from 1968 to
1975. In the daytime, there were walks to
Bear Lake and climbing three and a half miles
up to the top of the mountain Twin Sisters.
At night, there were campfires, "smores," Psalm
sings, and testimony under the stars.
I remember one of the preachers, Rev. Bob
McFarland of Quinter, complimenting the dining hall
food as he spoke at evening services
near the end of the week, saying that "at the start
of camp, I could barely spit over my chin,
but now I can spit all over it."
My brother Bill's self-imposed exile
from the family for the past 16 years has
cast a grey pallor over many occasions where
we might have expected him to be involved.
But his choices have also forced his three
siblings to reflect deeply on family, love,
and relationships. His last interactions
included playing soccer with his five-year-old
nephew Robbie, my son, who is now about to
turn 27; coloring pictures with his three-year-old
neice Stephanie, who is now 25. He has never
met Heather Giselle, now 19, or his namesake, William John Scott, now five years old.
At the same time, their uncle has undoubtedly
grown and developed intellectually, emotionally,
and spiritually far beyond what any of us might
have imagined two short decades ago. None of
us have ever stopped telling the children about
their wonderful Uncle Bill, and I never forget
how our parents would often remind us--in the
midst of our fighting as kids--that they named
us Robert Bruce and William Wallace because those
two famous Scots had such a deep bond of friendship.
There is no mansion or father's feast to return to, and
my brother Bill is far from a prodigal son. He
knows he will be welcomed with open arms at the
homes of his brothers and sister, whenever this
long-awaited reunion occurs.
By Robb Scott
Editor, ESL MiniConference Online
2008 ESL MiniConference Online
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