Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My de facto brother, Bob Lundeen has died

Last night, we learned that my cousin, Robert Lundeen, died after a protracted battle with Alzheimer's Disease.  Bob was the big brother I never had.  To understand how this came about, I have to acknowledge that my mother and her younger sister, Frances Lundeen (Bob's mother), had a very special closeness.  Thus, it came to pass that I spent my summers on the farm of my Aunt Fran and Uncle Irving for many years.  I was treated just like their two boys, Harlan and Bob.  In addition to my idyllic summers on the farm, we visited them every Christmas, and they visited us most every Thanksgiving.  Their farm was about a 4-hour drive from our house, near Galesburg, IL.

Cousin Bob, in 1998.  That wry smile was a trademark of his.

Being a few years older than I, it was inevitable that I thought of Bob as a role model.  It was also inevitable that he would tease me without mercy.  That's what older brothers do, naturally.  There were times when his teasing would really make me upset, but I eventually learned that if I didn't show him I was upset, he'd quit - teasing's no fun if it has no impact.   That was when I sometimes referred to him as "Sweet Old Bob - or sometimes just the initials"!  Despite all the teasing, Bob was mostly pretty good to me and we did many fun things together, including him taking me to the drag races:  specifically, the World Series of Drag Racing at the dragstrip in Cordova, Illinois.

We had many hours together on the farm, so we sometimes did things that young boys do.  One time, we filled up a pipe welded closed at one end, used to pound metal fence posts into the ground, with about 50 large grasshoppers.  Bob's parents had left us alone on the farm - with Bob, that was an open invitation for boyish deviltry.  After filling the pipe, we threw in a "Silver Salute" firecracker (an M-80) that Bob had obtained somehow.  When it went off, a jet of flame and grasshopper parts sprayed out and splattered pieces of grasshopper all over the north exterior wall of their house.  The pipe itself contained a "soup" of grasshopper parts and the goo of grasshopper guts.  Blech!  I don't know if his parents ever discovered the evidence, which was gradually washed away by rainfall.  We didn't repeat the incident.

I'd already been leaning toward a career in meteorology, and Bob was destined to become a mechanical engineer.  During slack moments on the farm, we would talk about our dreams and hopes for the future.  Bob had a small mirror telescope and we would go out into a field in the evening and use the telescope to see Jupiter and Saturn and the Moon and nebulae and star clusters and so on.  On a warm Illinois evening in the summer, it was an inspirational trip to the planets and stars we made many times.  I always loved the night sky on the farm - the very little light pollution and virtually no haze made the dark sky pop!!  The typical summer rains in Illinois corn country are associated with nocturnal thunderstorms.  Many a night I was awakened, in the room Bob and I shared when I was there, by the thunder and lightning show.  My enjoyment of storms was a foreshadowing of my storm chasing hobby, as well as my career as a scientist.

Bob wanted to get away from the farm, whereas I felt it was a delightful vacation to be part of an American family farm enterprise.  I guessed eventually that living it constantly could give one a different perspective, as opposed to my occasional dabblings in family farm agriculture.  Bob helped me to see how someone might have a different point of view from my own.  He was teaching me a life lesson.  One of many.

When we had both grown up and established in our careers, Bob used to call me on the phone from Idaho and just wanted to talk, sometimes at great length.  I always was happy when he called and so I could hear about what was going on in his life, and share my experiences with him as an equal.  Bob's mechanical engineering career led him to work for the Navy in Idaho Falls; evidently associated with the nuclear machinery in a submarine.  His work was classified so he couldn't say much about it.    Vickie and I finally made it to Idaho Falls on a 2012 vacation trip out West, and it was great to visit with him in the Idaho home where he raised his two boys, Chris and Gregg.  Chris and his wife Cindy have been caring for Bob during the course of his battle with Alzheimer's.

I can't even begin to recount all the ways that Bob has influenced me in positive ways.  His passing leaves an unfillable hole in my life.  He is already profoundly missed.