By Tim Sullivan
When people find out I write a monthly column the first question they ask is – what do you write about? Being the semiprofessional that I am, I usually fumble through an answer like, “I dunno, kids, family, life – whatever strikes me as amusing from month to month.” But this month in particular has been a strain to find the funny.
My brother Rob is very sick. He’s been battling colon cancer and it is catching up with him and all of us. By no means is he giving up, so I’m going to guess that he will not approve of this article but I’ll have to ask for forgiveness later.
Over winter break, I joined my siblings in New York to see him. Rob is the fifth of the ten Sullivan children, so the shockwaves cut equally up and down the line. For the most part, he’s quenched our concerns with strength, humor and humility. When he was initially diagnosed it was already stage 4, meaning it had spread. We all Googled what that meant: only 8 percent of people in his situation live more than five years. He’s at six and change so take that, Google. His drive to have as much time as possible with his wife and kids has benefitted us all.
When Rob was 14 he brought me out to the golf course and introduced me to the caddymaster, Bob Williams. It was a month before my 10th birthday but they needed caddies and Rob thought I could do it. He always thought I could do things. Bob Williams wasn’t so sure, but with a little prodding from Rob, he gave me a chance. I didn’t really care about making money; I just thought it was pretty cool to be going to work with my big brother.
I was a rabbit meaning I carried one bag. Rob and the bigger guys carried two. One day late in the season, we had already done our loop and it was getting on in the afternoon. There was one last foursome that wanted to squeeze in 18 holes before dark and Rob and I were the only caddies still around. Bob mumbled something about me trying to carry two bags as if he couldn’t even believe he was even asking the question. I said I’d try.
I had Mr. Fasano and Mr. Giumetti and I’m guessing they were new to the game because they had the exact same clubs and bags. There must have been a sale at Modell’s or something. Invariably, one would hook the ball off the tee and the other would slice. Rob told me to just carry the bags down the middle of the fairway and that he would do everything else.
And he did. He found all the wayward shots, ran the clubs to the golfers, raked every trap, grabbed every pin, replaced every divot and read every putt. I trudged up the center of the fairway, more mule than caddy. At one point, one of his golfers made a wisecrack about my pathetic performance and Rob didn’t hesitate to stick up for me and put the guy in his place. He took care of everything and we got through the round.
Growing up he was a lot of things: the brain, the athlete, the peacekeeper and the flirt. But his most undeniable trait might be that he’s always the first in line to be the last in line. He is going to be a giver until his last breath – and he may need to be. Despite the time he’s given us and the dignity with which he’s faced every hurdle, the rest of us aren’t prepared to lose him. But slowly, steadily he seems to be carrying us there, too. And that’s what I think about when I think of my brother. He can take care of everything.
Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.