There was a house on the hill amidst the town where I grew up. It was truly a grand place of residence, with an equally grand view of its surroundings. The family who lived there had four boys and a girl. The oldest boy was Rob.
Rob and I went to grade school and high school together, and we both ran with the same pack for a few years. We had a shack in the woods near his house for a headquarters. We rode bikes around town, threw water balloons at passing cars then ran like hell -- you know, just kids having fun. He was my classmate, my chum, a pal-o'-mine.
Rob's father was Rob Senior, which made him Rob Junior. Rob's father was an architect. In those days, every kid I knew whose father was an architect lived in a really nice big house. After I gave up on being either a priest or an astronaut, an architect was my vocation of choice. I could be creative, I could build stuff, and I could live quite well for myself, thank you very much.
But life always has other plans. Our friendships have lives of their own too, especially during adolescence. After we graduated from the parish school, some of us went on to the Catholic high school in an upscale neighborhood east of Cincinnati. Using the strict and unwritten code accepted in high schools across America, only a few of the small-town kids were accepted by “the in crowd.” Rob was one of them.
It would be fair to describe Rob as what my father would have called “spirited.” He had a certain gift for pulling stunts and then shrugging them off. It was a gift that served him well in the years to follow, one that he described to me years later, during our thirty-year reunion. It seems he wanted to be an architect like his father, but for reasons I don't remember him telling, was unable to enroll. So he just showed up, every day, for the first-year architecture classes at the University of Cincinnati. It was nearly the end of academic year before anyone caught onto him. That kind of chutzpah cannot be taught; it is bred in the bone. Eventually Rob would graduate from UC with a degree in history. He went on to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for a masters degree in architecture. In time, he joined his father's firm, and it became “Steinkamp, Steinkamp and Hampton.” As specialists in traditional-style architecture, Rob designed many of the prominent government buildings in our county.
My life had other plans as well. As a junior in high school, my father managed to convince me, that an aptitude with building materials was not my strong suit, and that I might consider a career in graphic design instead. To this day, I have at least two library shelves with books on architecture and planning, most of which I have read. That is as far as it went, what I like to call “my inner architect.” Whatever stopped me, could never have stopped Rob.
The last time I saw Rob was at the reunion six years ago. It was one of those occasions you remember forever. At a party after the “official” reunion, there was a moment where he turned to me and said: “Dave, I love you, man.” Maybe it was the beer talking, but you know, I believe he actually meant it. I thought of that moment this morning when my brother gave me a call. Rob passed away from a sudden accident at his home. He was only fifty-three years old.
Were it not for everything happening of late, I'd probably be on the road this Friday, heading five hundred miles to a funeral the following day. Many of the kids from my old grade school are still in touch. I want to be there for them. I want to be there for his siblings, and his parents. There's something that's not right about this. We shouldn't have to bury our children; our children should have to bury us. When that rule is broken, it is for reasons that confound us, but are known only to our Maker. But as this is written, I am there with them in spirit. And I remember Rob, in the hope that any human frailty of his be forgiven, and that he be granted eternal rest with the saints of God.
Somewhere in the continuum that is time and space, a group of boys are on their bikes, riding into the sunset. The day is getting late, and they had best be home soon.
[IMAGES: (1) Photo courtesy of Craver-Riggs Funeral Home, Milford, Ohio. (2) Artist rendering of re-creation, historic Garfield Building, 101 Main Street, Milford, Ohio. From Steinkamp, Steinkamp and Hampton Architects.]