The brothers enjoyed tinkering around with engines and they loved motorcycles. Harley Davidsons. Flashy, loud, powerful, free…
When Andrew won a 2000 Dyna Wide Glide Harley Davidson in a raffle drawing, Robert rejoiced with him. But it was a bittersweet celebration. At the time Andrew was being treated for cancer in St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho. Wearing black Harley Davidson jeans, Andrew was escorted out of the hospital and got to ride, as a passenger, on the Harley. He looked forward to driving it himself. But his wish was never granted. He died within days.
The motorcycle was willed to the boys’ mother, who ended up giving the motorcycle to Robert.
Whenever he takes the Harley for a spin, Robert thinks of Andrew. He wears his pin and leather vest. He has a football with Andrew’s name on it.
Sometimes Robert feels as if his brother is sitting behind him.
Robert smiles a lot when he talks about the Harley, but gaining possession of the bike was a difficult ordeal. Bittersweet is the word. He’d much rather have Andrew by his side.
Andrew was very strong, but short, Robert recalls. He had trouble from the onset. A delicate spine surgery set him in a cast for a year. But no matter how he felt, he was wild about cars, skate-boarding, motorcycles and palling around with his older brother, Robert.
When Robert got his own auto shop in Boise, Andrew offered to help. “I told him to change my flat tire.” After Andrew “fixed” it, Robert drove the car toward home. The wheel came off. Robert didn’t have the heart to tell Andrew that he didn’t do an adequate job in tightening up the bolt. Robert laughs about it today.
In spite of Andrew’s setbacks, he enjoyed life, Robert said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was really a positive guy.
“He looked at me with a gaze in his eyes. Mom said I couldn’t do anything wrong. All he did was talk about me.”
Andrew was first diagnosed with kidney cancer when he was 17. After surgery, he recovered, but the disease came back with a vengeance three years later. Regardless of his physical ailments and setbacks, Andrew loved cars and bikes.
“I was sitting on the hospital bed with him and he talked about restoring an old Cadillac,” Robert said. “Andrew acted like he was oblivious to his condition. I don’t know if he knew was going to die. Mom said he hid a lot of his suffering” much of it from the chemo and radiation treatment.
Robert returned to Kodiak shortly before his brother died. When he went down to see his family several years later, he looked at the Harley. The battery was dead; the tires were flat. “(My mom) didn’t have any use for it. She threatened to sell it if money got tight.” Robert wanted to keep it in the family.
Losing his younger brother took a big toll on Robert. He dealt with other tragedies and losses, such as the death of his sister in 2011, which nearly pushed him over the edge.
Robert wanted to die. He ended up drinking too much and taking off in his truck. The police caught up to him, which was fortunate for Robert. “I went to jail a couple days. I checked in to grief counseling.. Everybody that dealt with me was human. The cops treated me with respect, I apologized to them.”
As Robert considers the compassion and support he has gotten in Kodiak, he contends there is no place like it. “When I was in rut, they came to me. If I didn’t have my wife and children (Lynette Sheehan Ponte, Jade and Robie,) I don’t know where I’d be.”
By his example, Andrew helped Robert out too. He fought for the life that was slipping away from him. The least Robert could do was to treasure the one he had.
In the summer of 2012, Robert went to Idaho to visit his mother. When she asked how she could help him out, he asked for the motorcycle. She reluctantly gave him the title.
Robert drove it from Idaho to Seattle along the Columbia River and shipped it to Kodiak on Samson Tug and Barge.
Since bringing the Harley to Kodiak, Robert has ridden it in the Crab Festival and 4th of July parades and has become a rider for the American Legion. “The kids enjoy seeing the bikes,” he said.
Robert has been an aficionado of motorcycles for a long time.
When he was 12, he bought a Kawasaki Enduro for $70. It had a lot of loose wires, which made it look tacky. He snipped them off. “I cut off one too many wires. It wouldn't start. I took the motorcycle to the mechanic and he scolded me. He connected one wire and it ran after that.” That incident inspired Robert to be a mechanic.
Robert opened his first auto shop in Boise when he was 23.Today he figures out the malfunctions of Kodiak cars and trucks. He’s learning more about the mechanics of Harleys too.
There’s nothing like riding a Harley on Kodiak Island when the sun is shining, Robert said.
The road is wide, seemingly endless, even for Kodiak Island where there is less than 50 miles of it. The motorcycle transcends the barriers of time and space. It defies pain, sickness and death itself.
Robert feels as if his brother rides with him, recovering every ounce of strength the cancer stole from him, being restored to the free person he was meant to be. There is joy and freedom on the road ahead and it brings a smile to the face of a rider who has tasted much of sorrow.