Sixty years ago, Bob Heck dropped off his brother at a Chicago bus station and watched as Frank boarded a Greyhound to Des Moines, Iowa. Bob wasn't quite sure what would be in store for his younger sibling in the Hawkeye state. He figured they'd write.
But he didn't hear from Frank.
Not until last month.
The three Heck siblings grew up in Toledo, Ohio, during the Depression. Their father died in 1933, leaving their mother to care for Bob, Frank and an older sister. Bob was about 3 years old at the time; Frank was two years younger. Money was tight.
The family lost their home, and their mother couldn't afford to care for her children, so they were all sent to live in a children's home.
Soon enough, their mother got a job working for the city. She paid the children's home $15 a month to keep her children there -- otherwise, they would have been put up for adoption.
Bob was about 9 years old when his mother finally saved up enough money to keep her children under one roof.
The children's home had been segregated by age and sex, so Bob wasn't really around his siblings while he was there. Once reunited, though, Bob and Frank found common ground through sports. They'd gather with the neighborhood boys and organize games. Bob went on to play some of those sports at the high school level -- baseball, basketball and football. They both joined Boy Scouts.
But over time, Frank drifted away from the games; he drifted away from the Scouts. Their relationship drifted, too. Bob graduated from high school and became a Marine. Their mother kept him up to date on family affairs, but he didn't speak much to Frank. He shipped out to Korea and got back at the age of 22. Shortly after Bob returned to Toledo, Frank asked for a favor. He needed a ride to the bus station in Chicago. They chatted along the way, but Frank never did say what awaited him in Iowa.
Bob didn't pry.
"I thought we'd have contact," Bob said. "But we never did."
Bob got married and had three children, retired from the Marines and worked for a printing company for a time. He married Ganelle in 1981, and they lived in Florida before moving to Beaufort to live on property Ganelle's family has had since the '40s.
Over the years, Bob got updates on Frank from their mother, who'd visit Bob yearly. Neither brother reached out, though. When he married Ganelle, she had the idea to send out pleasantries. For a few years in the '80s, she mailed Christmas and birthday cards to Frank, but never got a response. They eventually stopped sending the cards.
Bob would often wonder how his brother was doing, but he wasn't sure he'd get a warm welcome if he were to reach out.
Years passed. Eventually, those years became most of their lives.
"Strange, but that's just how it goes," Bob said.
Their mother died in 1989, and their sister died in 2000.
Just Bob and Frank remained.
In January, Bob's wife, Ganelle, received a phone call. A man named Kevin said he was Frank's caretaker and had Frank on the line.
Frank would like to talk to his brother.
Bob gladly took the phone. Ganelle said her husband sounded as though he were speaking to an old friend -- their conversation was casual with humor, curiosity and warmth. They caught up on their lives.
Frank's voice was clear and strong, Bob remembers. But Frank, who is still living in Des Moines, said his health is fragile because of diabetes.
The brothers are both in their 80s. Bob is in good health and is enjoying his golden years. He's a churchgoing man and an avid fan of Cleveland sports. But like most people his age, he has started to think more about the past than the future.
"You get to a point where you get old and you don't have many years left," Bob said. "The older you get, the more you start thinking."
The brothers talked again a few days later. They talked about meeting at some point, but Frank figures he can't make it all the way to South Carolina. They're thinking about meeting halfway, in St. Louis.
We'll stay in touch, Frank told his brother.
That'd be good, Bob said.