They Ain’t Heavy … They’re My Brothers

Column by Jim Bishop

brothers4.gifThe clean-cut group, The Brothers Four, hit the music scene in a big way in 1960, and then quietly disappeared with the advent of folk-rock and the British invasion.
Members Bob Flick, John Paine, Mike Kirkland and Dick Foley formed in 1957 as fraternity members at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Their pleasing harmonies and laid-back, unassuming instrumentation – acoustic guitars and bass – helped garner two top hits, “The Green Leaves of Summer,” followed by “Greenfields.” Other memorable tunes included “Yellow Bird,” “Try to Remember” and my personal favorite, “My Tani,” a haunting paean to an exotic South Seas lass.
I discovered that even though the group has changed personnel many times over the years, they’re still touring and enthralling audiences in venues ranging from the U.S. to Japan and China.
Having recently pulled out and played my Brothers Four Columbia vinyl album – with its occasional nicks and surface noise – I became mindful of another group of brothers four.
It’s my own brothers – Bob, 60; J. Eric, 51; and Michael, 48. I’m oldest and the only one to put down roots in the Shenandoah Valley. The three live with their families in Doylestown, Souderton and Blooming Glen, Pa., respectively.

We share some character traits, foremost being operating at high energy levels, having a desire to cut-to-the-chase whatever the issue and a warped sense of humor (blame it on our dad) and believing that there’s either the wrong way or the Bishop way to get things done. We all married strong women who can read our minds and help keep us minding our money and our manners.

But, there’s some distinctives, too.

I admire brother Bob’s conversational skills, his ability to approach people and engage them naturally, making others feel at ease and important. He repairs things that I’d throw away. Many have been recipients of his woodworking craft, while I’m lucky to hammer a nail in the wall without having to patch a major crack.

My senior year at EMU, 1966-1967, Bob, then a freshman, was my roommate. I’m still thankful we did this, because upon graduation, my first job took me to Elkhart, Ind. That essentially became our last opportunity to have quality time together.

J. Eric – we call him “Herc” to this day because of his near obsession with bodybuilding in his teen years – is a veteran English teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, Pa., my alma mater (class of 1963). He’s a quick wit, fast on the drawl with pundamonium, onerous one-liners and metaphoric mayhem.

Students at EMU who attended Christopher Dock, upon learning that Eric is my brother, tell me that “Dr. Bishop” was their favorite teacher. Hearing that makes me feel good.

Mike has been generously bestowed with the gift of music and an awesome tenor voice that he shares with parishioners as minister of music and worship at the 700-member Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church. What also makes me humbly proud is hearing unsolicited testimonials of appreciation for Bob and Mike and their families from others at this church.

We older brothers thought Mike, or “Mac,” was on a longer leash than the rest of us, likely because he was the youngest. Looking back, I believe my parents treated each of us equally fair. It may have been that the Bishop brood would soon all leave the nest, and that realization ruffled Mom and Dad’s feathers.

With our busy schedules and geographic distance, we’re not able to reassemble as a foursome very often. But when we do, something almost mystical happens: Conversation resumes where it left off the last visit, someone’s pronouncement triggers a quick retort, and much laughter ensues as the decibel level rises.

There’s an unwritten, unspoken understanding of love, respect and support for each other; no price tag can be attached to this familial bond.

What fortunate sons, we brothers four, not just during the green leaves of summer, but in singing close harmony all year long.

Jm Bishop, originally from Doylestown, Pa., is public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.


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