Bobby

Robert Schmitt, Carl Schmitt’s eldest son, celebrates his 95th birthday today.  This reminiscence by his late brother, David, pays tribute to his gentleness, intelligence, and courage, qualities still evident to everyone who meets him.

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Bobby Schmitt, c. 1925

My oldest brother’s name is Bobby.  He was born first and is the gentlest, most considerate and responsible of all the brothers.  I suppose that has a lot to do with what has always been expected of him.  Usually, the eldest in a big family is expected to look after and help care for all the rest of the little urchins that follow along; it’s his unwritten destiny and usually works out that way in most families.

Bobby is not only conscientious, but he is very smart and also an excellent teacher and applied psychologist through necessity. He is a genius at simplifying the problem and applying the common denominator.  He excelled in mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and everything else for that matter.  Every year he would win the ten dollar gold piece in grammar school.  The only year he didn’t win was because the poor girl who always rated second was given the award because the school officials “wanted to be fair,” or political, about it.

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Robert (far left) and his siblings Austin, Michael, Jacob, Christopher, Gertrude, and John, in the garden at Silvermine, c. 1935

Bobby was also courageous even though he was gentle and never fought, that didn’t stop him when he was called upon for leadership.  Once when we were teenagers out on Long Island Sound in a sail boat, a big storm came up.  We all but capsized when the first squall line hit us.  I was five years younger than he and was scared stiff.  But I was much impressed and very thankful when Bobby took charge and put us all to work: donning life jackets, stripping the sails, and heaving to into the fierce wind.  We weathered the worst of it and when the Coast Guard asked us if we needed assistance, we thanked them and let them know “everything was under control,” thanks to our skipper.

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Norwalk Harbor, pastel on paper, 1910, 7 x 13 in.

Another time just the opposite happened and we were becalmed and spent a pleasant summer night drifting across Long Island Sound.  I can still hear the slapping of the halyards against the mast as the boat rocked back and forth with each swell all night long.  In the morning we were perilously close to the rocky shore of Long Island but were very thankful for a tow by the Coast Guard back to Norwalk Harbor and our mooring and some of the concerned parents I might add.

Bobby’s basic philosophy (per forsa) was: “Chi va piano, va sano et chi va sano ve lantorno”: “Who goes softly, goes sanely and who goes sanely goes a long way.”

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Robert, oil on board, c. 1945, 12 x 10 in.
After working six full days as a draftsman for the war effort, Robert would would travel to Silvermine by train on Sundays, trudging home from the station six miles away.  The exhaustion of his long hours at work shows in his face.  Perhaps due to these circumstances, his father never finished the portrait.

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