This week my brother Dave reaches his 84th birthday, and so I thought I’d scribble a few words about him, even though he’ll probably chew me out for doing so. He usually avoids the spotlight, even when he deserves it.
For the first 17 years of our lives, Dave and I were not only brothers but also best buddies. With our parents and our younger sister, Dave and I trekked from one tiny Pennsylvania hamlet to another, about 20 of them. When Dave was 6, our parents enrolled him in first grade. I was 14 months younger than Dave, but our landlady happened to be the first-grade teacher. So she squeezed me into the roster without anyone noticing. This allowed Dave and me to share our ragged academic careers – including two one-room schools and others of doubtful merit – side by side.
Moving to a new town each year can be a daunting adventure. Legend paints small town people as friendly and open-handed. Dave and I learned that those hands sometimes contained a rock or a snowball, ready to be aimed at any new kids on the block. Whatever the reception, Dave and I stuck together. Dave’s presence at my side made life a lot less lonesome.
Once we settled into each new location, Dave made friends more easily than I did. Although neither of us was especially athletic, we spent a thousand hours a year in the back yard, playing pitch and catch. Dave was the pitcher, and by our junior year he had developed a blazing fastball. During his two-year career he pitched a no-hitter and won almost all the games he started. I was proud of him. But when he was 17, a touch of rheumatic fever ended Dave’s pitching.
Not long after we finished high school, J. Edgar Hoover’s agents came calling. “The FBI needs you two boys in Washington to search fingerprints and smoke out Commies in government.” With cardboard suitcases in hand, Dave and I boarded a bus for the big city. For the next six months we shared a room at 1923 N. St. NW, just west of Dupont Circle. We rode streetcars to our night shift duties in the shadow of the Capitol. We ogled the women, and were told what a great man Mr. Hoover was. It was an exciting life for two country boys.
Our lives separated in July 1948 when I joined the U.S. Navy. Dave stayed in Washington for a while and married a fabulous woman named Pat. During the next 40 years they lived and worked in Pennsylvania, the Virgin Islands, Las Vegas and finally in Pinellas County. Dave usually worked two jobs, and Pat pulled on her oars right beside him. Their married daughters, Linda and Sue, had settled up north.
Early in 1990 Pat felt pain. Within a few weeks she died of cancer. Dave was suddenly alone. He stayed put in his home on a peaceful side street in north Pinellas. He found enough employment to give his days some structure. He formed friendships with a few congenial ladies. He and I swapped occasional visits.
In 1999 my own wife died and I moved to New England. During the next decade, on each of my six-times-a-year visits to Pinellas, I hooked up with Dave for lunch or supper and a couple of hours of jawboning. He is a lively conversationalist, opinionated but always interested in the ideas of others. Dave and I slowly grew old together.
Two years ago Dave stopped meeting me, or anyone. He quit his job. Depression had set in, big time. I urged him to seek help. So did his daughters. He declined. The darkness deepened.
Then two angels stepped in. They took the form of a neighbor couple, Chris and Sharyn. They hadn’t seen Dave for many days, and were worried. They entered his home and found him with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
Soon came an EMS squad, a hospital room, a brief stay in a rehab center. Dave’s daughters quickly arrived and took charge. With the help of those ladies and their husbands, Dave was returned to the real world. He moved back to Pennsylvania and settled into a first-class independent living complex.
Today Dave is as happy as I’ve ever seen him. His health is good, his mind is sharp, and he’s delighted to be alive. He’s grateful to Linda, Sue, their husbands, Chris and Sharyn and others who served as his rescue squad. And so am I.
Next time you see someone who seems to be beyond help, I hope you’ll think of my brother Dave. Happy 84th, bro!