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A big brother reflects on what his younger brother taught him

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which means it's time again for one of the final few StoryCorps of this year.

ROB RIGANO: My name is Rob Rigano.

PHIL RIGANO: What's your relationship to me?

R RIGANO: We're brothers, unfortunately, yes (laughter).

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Rob Rigano lives in New York. His older brother, Phil, lives near San Diego. They see each other once per year. And on one of those visits, the StoryCorps trailer was parked near Phil's home. Phil recently came back to remember the conversation they had there.

P RIGANO: My brother Robbie loved coming here. And our family had had an Airstream trailer, so taking Robbie to StoryCorps was a natural fit.

What's your earliest memory, Rob?

R RIGANO: I rolled my Uncle Charlie's Dodge into the streetlight.

P RIGANO: Wait, what happened?

R RIGANO: Went down the driveway. I jumped out of the car and it went down the driveway.

P RIGANO: Into a telephone pole?

R RIGANO: Yes (laughter).

P RIGANO: Robbie is what they call developmentally disabled. He knew he had limits, but he had a way of just melting your heart.

And do you remember one time in Mom's station wagon?

R RIGANO: Yeah, I fell out.

P RIGANO: Yeah. And what were you doing, playing with the doors while the car was driving?

R RIGANO: No, the locks were defected.

P RIGANO: So you weren't playing with the door handle?

R RIGANO: No. I think they had trouble with the locks on that particular model car.

P RIGANO: (Laughter) I know you had trouble with the locks.

R RIGANO: (Laughter). And then another time, I bit a horse.

P RIGANO: No, you didn't bite a horse, Rob.

R RIGANO: I thought I did.

P RIGANO: The story was you wanted to go up and pet the horse. And the man said, oh, that's OK, he can pet it. The horse won't bite. And Mom said, I'm not afraid of the horse biting my son, I'm afraid of what my son might do to the horse.

R RIGANO: (Laughter).

P RIGANO: Besides these shenanigans, he ended up working at the Department of Public Works for 30 years, where he got to walk around the streets picking up litter, cleaning, sweeping. And he got to know nearly every resident. He was often referred to as the real mayor by the people. In fact, he would go around our neighborhood to look in on our older neighbors. And he would say, well, who else is going to do it? He just has that sense of what's right.

What's your happiest memory?

R RIGANO: My happiest memory is when Dad took me to learn how to swim. But my dad's a little excitable.

P RIGANO: (Laughter) And why do you think that is, Rob?

R RIGANO: I think that's his nature.

P RIGANO: Not your nature, maybe, you know, of doing things?

R RIGANO: No, that's his nature.

P RIGANO: Rolling cars into trees and...

R RIGANO: I don't do that anymore.

P RIGANO: Oh, OK.

I was listening to this recording with my wife and she said, isn't it great to hear Robbie being Robbie again? Because he came down with COVID more than once, and his illness has really taken a toll on his sense of humor. He is not as effervescent as he used to be. We miss those things because he was always a glue that bound the family together. He is a gem of a guy, and we all help polish him.

Anything else, Rob?

R RIGANO: I think that's about it.

P RIGANO: That's all?

R RIGANO: Yeah. Next year, we could have stories about you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Brothers Rob and Phil Rigano. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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