Some brothers grow up, having the kind of relationship that observers often excuse with that overused phrase, “Boys will be boys.” Others have a lifetime together that models those sought-after ideals we think of when we use terms such as “fraternity” and “brotherhood.”
While I don’t know what type of childhood Earle Raymond Bean shared with his older brother Sam, I do know they shared a common destiny. Both of them succumbed to the cardiovascular issues that plague people with Marfan syndrome.
Firstborn Samuel William Bean—named after his father—arrived on the family scene on September 26, 1921. I don’t know whether anyone ever remarked at his extraordinary height at any time during his childhood, although I’m fairly certain not much was widely known about the syndrome that was, even in childhood, shaping his body with its distinctive markings. Perhaps because he had cousins with similar propensities, the physical distortions were assumed to be due more to family resemblance than medical anomaly.
Almost five years later, Sam—or Sammie junior, as he was called in his younger years—was joined by his brother Earle. Just like his older brother, Earle turned out to be a long, lanky lad with the characteristically thin face, bony arms and legs, and long, long fingers.
There are a few pictures remaining of that time when Sam and Earle were still young children. Though faded through the many years since, one photo captures the family in front of the “Beanery” in Alameda, California. To the left, standing by her front step, is Ella May Shields Bean, the paternal grandmother of Sam and Earle. Standing next to her—at least this is my guess, as the picture is not marked—is her daughter-in-law, Maud Woodworth Bean, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband, Samuel senior. If my guess is correct, the last person in the back row of the photograph is Sam’s older sister, Leona.
It looks like the photographic session has interrupted some important play activity, for young Sammie is standing in front, between his dad and his aunt, donning an impressive cowboy hat. His younger brother seems deeply interested in whatever he is holding—surely an item meant to complement his feather headdress.
I’ve long remembered seeing the photograph of Sammie junior as a baby, being held by his grandmother as if she is seeing him for the first time—and simultaneously presenting him to the world. I also remember hearing family members talk about “that picture of Sam in the baby carriage”—and wonder if the photo I found of the oversized boy in that old-fashioned stroller would be the one they meant.
But I never had the chance to meet Sam. He was gone long before I could possibly have met him. As for his younger brother—the one who played “Indian” to Sam’s “Cowboy”—he followed suit in the same fashion. All I know of these brothers is the stories they left behind.