Tag Archives: David

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17

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From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!

 

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #10

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This morning, looking for writing ideas, I went to amazon.com and used their free browsing feature to check out 1000 Awesome Writing Prompts by Ryan Andrew Kinder. He has some great ideas! I chose this one:

How were you named? If you feel that your name is boring and the story behind it equally so, make up a name and come up with an interesting story behind that.

My mother had trouble with names. Our dogs, even, lacked imagination. We had, first, Laddie, because Lassie was famous on the big screen, but our dog was a boy. He was followed by Tippy, because his tail had a white tip, who was followed by Tippy II and Tippy III in a smattering of short-lived dogs. We had Lucky and Lady. Husky, because he had a bit of that breed in his mix. Rusty was based on his color.

Naming baby boys was easy. My brothers were given traditional names with a family history. Ted was Theodore George, after his two grandfathers, which was usual for the oldest boy in our German family. Dave was David Robert: David after my mother’s grandfather, and Robert after our father. The baby that died at birth was given Dad’s complete name – Robert William – though we always referred to that baby as Bobby.

Girls were harder, right from the start. Mom pulled girls names from whatever inspiration was around. Brenda was named after Brenda Starr, of comic strip fame. When I was born, a nurse said, “Look at all that black hair, dark as cinders…you should name her Cinderella.” From that comment came my name, Cindy. Not Cynthia. Not, thankfully, Cinderella, though I like to tell folks that’s who I was named for.

I don’t know where Mom got the idea to name her next daughter Cherie, but she was set on it when her next door neighbor gave birth first, and took that name for her own daughter. Mom was furious! She had less than a week to come up with an alternate. Though she remained friends with that other mother for most of their lives, Mom never failed to mention that bit of thievery. My sister ended up with the name Sheila.

Cheryl was next; her name, Cheryl Ann, was taken from the side of a tugboat. Nita Louise followed (and later showed a bit of Mom’s desperate ingenuity when she named her own daughter Tina Louise) though I don’t know where the name came from. Robin’s name was a nod to my father, Robert. I don’t know how Mom came up with Darla, but her middle name – Jean – was for one of her best friends.

Carl and Amy owned the hotel bar at Lake Nepessing. The two had met when Carl was stationed in Germany during the war. Amy was a beautiful blonde with a strong accent. Once, when Mom was expecting, she and Dad had them over to play cards  After a few drinks, Amy got a bit maudlin. She was not able to have children, she said, but she loved them dearly.

“And just look at this houseful of children you have here! How is that fair?”

Mom shook her head in sympathy.

“If this baby is a girl,” she offered, one hand on her growing belly, “I will name her after you!”

That was how my baby sister Amy got her name. The adult Amy was flattered, and took the honor seriously, following the life of her little namesake with special gifts for holidays and other occasions.  For Mom, I can’t help but think it was just a relief: one name she didn’t have to struggle to come up with!

…and More

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Cindy, Ted and Brenda in the living room, in front of the door leading to the old kitchen

Before Dad started the big project that would become our new kitchen, he had already been remodeling the house. He had already closed off a portion of the living room, on the right side, to create a second bedroom. That became the master bedroom.

The small bedroom in back, original to the house, became mine and Brenda’s, where we slept in matching twin beds with gray vinyl headboards. Then it was ours plus Ted’s, when his big, “two-year” crib was moved in. That was when Sheila and then Cheryl, too, were sharing the other bedroom with Mom and Dad. When Cheryl outgrew the bassinet, there were two little cribs in that small room along with double bed, dresser and cedar chest. When Nita was born, Ted was moved into a big bed, Sheila was moved to the big crib in the back bedroom, Cheryl and her small crib were moved in there, too…and Brenda and I were moved upstairs.

The upstairs consisted of two large bedrooms. Dad was afraid of fire, so neither bedroom was given a door. Over the years we hung drapes over the openings, and argued for doors to no avail. If we mentioned privacy, we were told we didn’t need it, or that we should just respect each others privacy. If we’d had doors, they wouldn’t lock, anyway. Ever since Brenda – as a toddler – had wheeled her baby carriage into the bathroom and locked the door behind her, causing Mom to have to stand outside on a bench talking to her through the window until Dad could be reached to come home from work to take the door off the hinges to save her, none of our inside doors locked.

Straight ahead at the top of the stairs was a simple, square room with a closet. The ceiling was made out of tiles of wood, with the grain going first one direction, then the other. The windows looked over to the grandparent’s house. Around the corner to the right was an L-shaped room with deep shelves built in over the stairwell. The closet led to the attic space under the eaves. The windows looked over the flat kitchen roof, to the garden, the parking lot, the Lake Inn, and Lake Nepessing beyond. That was our bedroom.

It was scary, at first, to be so far away from the hub of the family. Turning off the closet light caused moments of panic, as we rushed from the pull cord to the bed in the dark. We devised a way to link metal hangars together, to form a long chain. One end, we’d hook into the light cord; the other end, we’d bring carefully across the room with us, get into bed, then pull. The light would go off, the links of hangars would fall apart and drop to the floor in a loud, clanging heap, Mom would shout up the stairs for us to keep it down and, giggling, we’d settle in to bed.

I learned quickly to enjoy the quiet and calm of the upstairs. I would sit on the top, deep shelf, away from the fray, with a book for company. I would take a tablet, a doll and a flashlight to the very farthest point of the attic, under the eaves, to sit by myself to write. We’d make imaginary lines on walls and floor, to create separate spaces.

As the little girls moved in upstairs, we helped plan and decorate their room and rearrange their furniture.  Visits to our room were special, and only allowed rarely. Eventually, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin and Amy all made their way upstairs. A half bath was installed upstairs, to the left of the landing. The little bedroom downstairs, where we had all taken a turn, was shared by Ted and David for the rest of the time that I lived at home.

As the family had grown, so had the rest of the house…

 

Burnt

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Yesterday, I imagined my house on fire; I was able to save five things.

I changed the rules to save all of my houseplants, then chose two photographs, two laptops and a scanner, one book of poems and a big purse. I know that’s more than five items, but it all made sense yesterday.

Today, the question is this:

What things do you most regret leaving behind when the house burned, and why?

With the opportunity to start fresh, I’d have only a few regrets, but they are important ones:

  1. Diaries and Journals: One low shelf in my bedroom is dedicated to these old writings. I almost never look at them, but when I do, it becomes an all day activity filled with giggles, tears and the reliving of old memories. I wrote mostly of heartache and frustration, but also made note of cute things my daughters said, moments of absolute contentment and long lists of aspirations. I would regret not being able to revisit that younger version of myself.
  2. Books: The books I’m reading now,  the books I re-read on occasion, the books I refer to regularly for information and the books I hold onto  purely for sentimental reasons…all would be missed. Those are the items that I’d still be looking around for, then poignantly remembering their loss, for the rest of my life.
  3. My Dining Room Table: It’s old, scratched, stained, and the most valuable piece of furniture I own. Not for its monetary value, but because of its history. My father brought the table home about fifty years ago. It was used, of darkly stained wood with big rolled legs and a half-dozen leaves for expanding it. It was relegated to the back room, which – in our house – was a combination play room, guest room, den and laundry room. The table – except when used for overflow crowds at mealtime on Sundays and holidays – was used for folding clothes. As I was the child most often in charge of laundry, I became very familiar with it. Years later…maybe thirty years later…after all of us were grown and gone from home, after my Dad had passed away and family gatherings were not as big as they had once been, my mother told my brother David that he could move the table out to the garage, to use for projects or parties. “Mom, he will ruin that table,” I told her, “if you wanted to get rid of it, I’d be happy to take it.” “No,” she said, “I gave it to him. It’s just an old, beat-up table.” So that was that. Then, in quick succession, David died and my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Whenever I’d visit, she’d send me home with clothes that she never planned to wear again, and ask what I’d like, of her other belongings, when she died. I always said, first, that I’d like her to just stick around, so that questions like that didn’t have to be considered. When pressed, though, I did mention, once, that I’d like that table. “David’s table?” she asked, “Oh, I gave that to Sheila already.”  So that was that. Then, less than two weeks before Mom passed away, my sister Sheila died unexpectedly in her sleep. We all congregated at the house we grew up in, to say goodbye to our sister and to be with Mom for the balance of her life. My sister Brenda came upon some of her nieces one day, talking about how that old table should be sent with Sheila’s boyfriend “because nobody else would want it.” She stepped in and let them know that, in fact, I wanted it. So that was that. Now it’s mine, a relic of my childhood, carried home by my father, inherited from my brother David, my sister Sheila and  – finally  – my mother, thanks to the intervention of my sister Brenda. I really regret not saving it from yesterday’s fire!
  4. The bright pink, surfboard-shaped rug, that Rosa Parks likes to sit on, while eating her dinner. My little dog will have enough to adjust to already; she should keep something that will make her feel at home.
  5. My daybook. I’d be lost without it. If I’d been thinking, I would have shoved it into my big purse before leaving!

So, having lost almost everything in this imaginary fire, I guess I have few enough imaginary regrets!

Brother, David

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There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.

Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.

There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months.  The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once  “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.

Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises…but also with sludge, slime and seaweed. He went door-to-door looking for assistance, terrifying the home-owners with his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” appearance. He walked all the way home. That’s when Mom took care of him. Dad later told how his midnight snack was rendered almost inedible due to the screams coming from the next room as Mom treated David’s wounds with mercurochrome and hydrogen peroxide.

David was one of the youngest in our large family. His brother, most of his other sisters and I have memories that stretch back to his birth. Many of us had turns rocking him to sleep. Amy, the only one younger than David, shared memories and experiences unique to the two of them, as the “babies” in the family.

As an infant, David had tiny dimples in the top of each ear, and eyes so large that his eyelids didn’t quite cover them when he slept. I was appalled when, many years later, I answered the phone at my parents house and the caller asked for “Bug-Eye”…but the reference was obvious. The nick-name didn’t bother David (he laughingly called it his “prison name”), but we didn’t use it. To us he was just Dave, or David.

When David was little, Mom called him “BeetleBomb,” after a horse that was always coming from behind to win a race. She also called him “Boodler,” because he was one. We called him Davey. Grandma Florence called him “Crocket.” I can picture him, still, as that little guy…cowboy hat hanging down his back, shirtless, holster with toy guns riding low on his hips, barefoot, squinting into the sun…

It seems like it was just the blink of an eye, and he was grown.

Busy with my own life, I didn’t see the transition.

David, as an adult, had a toothy grin and a big laugh. He talked too loud and often didn’t know when to “shut up.” He  made all of us cringe with stories of our youth that we’d just as soon forget. He often made us angry with his teasing banter. In fact, when considering his multitude of  “lives”, I should take note of the many times members of his family told him, “David, if you don’t cut it out, I’m gonna kill ya!”

David won the lottery once. Not the millions, but a pretty good sum. He turned it all into cash. No-one saw him for three days! Then he was spotted, his pockets spilling over with bills, coming out of the Eagles tavern. David didn’t go to work for two weeks, but took the whole crew out for steak dinner many nights. He bought drinks all around at every bar he went into. He kept himself pretty well lit until the money ran out.

Though he had little, David bought not one lasting thing with his winnings. He played. I’d like to say it was the time of his life, but I don’t know that to be true. Money – and material things – meant so little to David, winning the lottery was probably not a highlight.

David liked fun. He lived in the moment. He loved the party, the craziness, the giddiness of life. We didn’t have a lot in common in that sense, but we loved each other just the same.

When my father was dying, I flew from Beaver Island to Davison Airport, then ran door-to-door to get to a phone, to get a taxi to take me to the hospital, in hopes of seeing Dad one last time…

When I got to the hospital and walked out of the elevator on my way to Dad’s room, there was my brother, David, passed out asleep in a chair in the hallway. I still smile at the sense of calm and normalcy that vision gave me, at a time when the whole world seemed up-side-down.

Dad’s death changed all of us, for the better.

We came face-to-face with mortality, and so came to be more appreciative of life.

In our usually non-demonstrative family, we have became more generous with hugs, quicker to say, “I love you.” We’ve taken the time to get to know each other better, even when we have little in common.

I grew to know and appreciate David’s wit, intelligence and good-heartedness.

I’m very thankful for that.

As it turned out, even twenty lives wasn’t enough to keep David with us.

In our last conversation, David hanged his head and said, “I guess I should’ve quit drinking two years ago when the doctor told me to…”

Well, I wish he had.

I would love to have my little brother, David, around driving me crazy today and for many years to come…but the time for recriminations was past. I told him one of my memories from his childhood:

Dad would sit in his chair at the head of the long kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other. David – it was Davey back then – would sit on Dad’s raised foot. Dad would hold both of Davey’s hands in his one big hand, and bounce his foot up and down…a “pony ride.” More like a bucking bronco, when Dad was in charge! Then, Dad’s wicked humor coming into play, the foot would go up, Dad would release his grip on Davey’s hands, and the little boy would go flying. He’d land on his feet, if he was lucky, but just as often on his bottom or his belly or his back. As soon as he recovered his breath, Davey would burst into giggles…and go running right back for more. Again and again and again.

“That’s the problem, David,” I told him, “in your entire life, you never have known when to quit!”

It was a good visit.

Though I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d see him, it had to end.  David was tired; I had a schedule to keep.  Hugs all around, and I was out the door, then back in for one last good-bye. As I turned to leave that last time, I put my hand up to wave. David leaned forward in the recliner, smiled and said, “See ya…”

My brother, David, died three years ago today. I still miss him every day, and can picture that smile as if it was yesterday.

David

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I woke up early this morning in a fog of sadness and worry.

I assumed it was my job situation. Everyone has been helpful, kind and sympathetic. Still, it’s stressful to change jobs, hours, type of work and method of payment. Today, I had three people to talk to about supplemental work for the summer. I also had to go back to my old place of employment, to pick up my final paycheck. Coming onto the first of the month, bills were coming due.

Sleep was impossible; I got up and made coffee.

I wrote a couple checks, in anticipation of my bank deposit. I looked over my day book, trying to memorize my schedule so far. What I really needed, I decided, was a purse-sized calendar that would show me a full week – or even month – at a time. I know I have at least two…but where? The file drawer – not the one with actual hanging files in it, but the other one…with stacks of miscellaneous papers – was the obvious place to start. I started working through the layers.

The warranty papers for my new phone,  I filed correctly. The stack of hand-made paper samples went to a drawer in the studio. A stack of photos diverted my attention for at least a half- hour. Christmas cards, purchased on sale and never mailed, went into my new correspondence drawer, where they will – I hope – be remembered next winter. A scrap of wrapping paper…the fat, county phone book…a map of Michigan…my page-a-day book from 2010…

I have kept a daily planner for at least twenty years. I keep track of my work schedule, hours worked and tips, if any. I keep track of the medicine dose for my dogs. I used to have a “to-do” list, but it suits me better to jot down jobs as I finish them. I get the sense of accomplishment without the angst. I have a master list of goals in the front, and a wish-list in the back. I keep a Christmas list in there, and write down gifts as I buy them. At times, I’ve kept a food diary. I always keep track of steps and/or miles walked, plus any other exercise I fit in. Letters written, phone calls made, visitors to my home are noted. Book and movie recommendations, and quotes from books and magazines are in there. Photos and letters are sometimes tucked in the pages…”2010,” Now there’s a distraction!

At first glance, nothing much had changed. A couple things could be checked off the wish-list, but the goals were pretty much in tact (note to self: choose easier goals!) I flipped through to today’s date.

Oh.

I drew in a breath.

My brother, David, died on June 29th, two years ago.

Too young. Too soon.

Ten years younger than me, David and I had little in common…

No, that’s wrong, though I say it all the time. I always have.

It’s true, we had many differences. David was loud. Sometimes crazy. A big tease. He was a party-er and a big drinker. He worked, but not steadily. He never saved. Other than a short stint in Texas with two of my sisters, David always lived in the family home. Dad was generally mad at him: Mom did him no favors by being overly generous and protective of him. I was second to the oldest; David was second to the youngest.

Still, we had the same parents and the same brother and sisters. We grew up in the same big, rambling household. We attended the same church and the same schools. We shared many of the same memories, both tragic and joyful. We shared the same dark sense of humor, that caused us to laugh at the most inopportune times. We were family.

He was born on a Sunday morning in September. Dad came home and gave us the news, then packed us up to go to Mass. In the excitement, he forgot to give us dimes for our collection envelopes. When the basket came around, Dad just dropped in a few dollar bills. I taped the pink collection envelope, stamped with the date, into my scrapbook, as a memento of the day my little brother was born.

I rocked him to sleep, helped to entertain him, babysat for him and helped him with his homework. I watched him grow up.

As adults, David helped me move a couple times. Beyond that, I saw him at holidays or other occasions when I visited my parents. Sometimes we’d have a little chat; sometimes he’d join in board games or cards with the rest of us. He always impressed me with his memory and wealth of knowledge. David was always good for a hug.

David wasn’t a big part of my life when he was alive, so I’ve puzzled over why I miss him so much now that he’s gone. David was pure energy. Like a firecracker – or a lightning bolt – his presence seemed to change even the quality of the air around him. I think sometimes it’s not so much that I miss David – though I do – but that I miss the world the way it was with David in it.

I have a photo – not found this morning – that I took, at age sixteen, with my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. We were here on Beaver Island, on vacation, on the beach at Iron Ore Bay. David had stripped down to his underwear, and was headed for the water: hands in the air, arms every which way and legs at a dead run. I caught the moment when both of his feet were in mid-air.

That’s the image of David that I hold in my mind.