A few months ago I had a pretty vivid dream. A few dreams that I have had have a quality about them that makes me take them seriously. This was one of those.
In the dream I was with my step father, Dave. I think I was aware it was a dream, but it also was real to me. Dave passed away quite a few years ago. I remember thinking in the dream how good it was to see him.
He told me that he wanted me to write something about his life. He said he wanted me specifically to do it. He wanted me to honestly tell things I know about him and things about my relationship with him, even some hard things. He said he felt I knew him as well as anyone still alive. And he felt I knew things, and saw him in a way, that probably others didn’t. I told him I would do it.
I thought I would do it right away, but I didn’t. I have put it off because it is so hard to do it justice the way I want to.
But I need to not wait any longer. Just a warning that there are some graphic details ahead about war and abuse that may be upsetting to read.
First I have to say that this is MY experience with Dave. I know very well that other people still living (and dead) have a different view of him. So, I do not claim this to be anything more than what I remember, and what I experienced, and what I came to feel for him, and what I learned. We even talked some about this in the dream. He also knows very well that different people in his life have had very different relationships with him and feelings towards him. Sometimes extremely hard relationships with lots of pain. Their feelings and experiences are as valid as mine. I can just only speak of mine.
Dave was born in upstate New York. He had a poor family, but he loved them, and I don’t remember him ever complaining about anything in his childhood. He had an older sister and brother. Some of the things he told me that happened in his childhood were awful to me, but he took it all in stride. He told me of a time when his father beat his sister so badly with a belt that she couldn’t go to school for several days and had to lie on her stomach because of the welts on her back. I can’t remember for sure what she had done, but it wasn’t something horrible, and the story was shocking to me.
When Dave was pretty small his older brother would tell him to go stand in the field so he could throw rocks at Dave and try to hit him. He got his head split open with a rock that way. Dave also thought that the reason Superman could fly was because of his cape. So Dave got a towel and tied it on himself as a cape, climbed up on top of the porch roof, and jumped off, expecting to soar out over the field. He thought maybe he would make a little loop in the air and then come back to the porch. He was quite surprised when he plummeted to the ground. I don’t remember if he was knocked out both of those times, but he might have been. He laughed about it all.
Dave was wiry and strong as a kid, and he was a good fighter. His brother would take him to older kids and say “I’ll bet you a dime David can beat you in a fight.” Dave would say to them “Please don’t take the bet, because I’ll have to beat you up.” But they would take the bet, thinking they could surely beat Dave. Dave would reluctantly beat them up, and his brother would pocket the dime. Dave laughed about that part, too.
When he was in High School there was a girl he knew who got pregnant. That was quite a scandal then. People were being mean to her, but he told her he would keep her safe. He stayed around her all the time at school and would walk her home so that people would not make fun of her or treat her badly. Apparently he did other things like that in High School. He would fight if he needed to, but he also would protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. My Mom told me about going to a High School reunion with him, and people coming up to him and thanking him for taking care of them in High School.
When he was 17 he talked his mother into signing for him so he could go into the Army at that age. I can’t remember where he went for training, but at some point he got tired of it, and tired of being told what to do, and he went AWOL. He just left and went to New Orleans and worked on a tug boat for a while. His commanding officer called his mother and got her to talk Dave into going back. That officer told Dave’s mother that he was one of the very best soldiers ever, if they could just keep him there. Somehow he got in minimal or no trouble for doing that, which was shocking. That officer must have really liked him.
This was during the Korean war. They asked for volunteers to be trained as paratroopers. Dave wasn’t going to do it, but some other guy said he would give Dave $50 if he would sign up, so he did. Dave was assigned as the “pusher.” He was the guy at the back of the line of guys when they were jumping who pushed on the line and made sure everyone jumped when they were supposed to. They could always trust him to jump and not chicken out, so that was why he was the pusher.
He told me he saw three guys die jumping. I remember one came down on top of another guy’s parachute in the air, and that collapsed the other guy’s parachute. I think the others died because their chutes didn’t open. Also, when they would parachute behind enemy lines, if someone broke their leg, or was hurt, they had to just leave them.
Dave told me quite a few stories about things that happened in Korea, but the ones I remember were the three times he should have died, and the time he killed a guy in hand to hand combat.
Dave slept in a top bunk in the barracks. He always got up at the same time every day, but one day he woke up quite early. He didn’t know why, but he just couldn’t sleep, so he went outside and took a walk. When he got back there was a ton of commotion and some guys ran to him yelling for him to come and look. When he went in the barracks he saw that a mortar had come through the roof, and hit his bed directly. It was still there in the top bunk. He said it really shook him up.
Another time he was assigned to drive an officer down the mountain. The enemy could see them as they left but would lose sight of them in the trees on the way down. But they would time them while they could see them and then try to take them out closer to the bottom. But Dave didn’t know they were doing this that day. On the way down this time, while they were in the part where they couldn’t be seen, another soldier was walking along the road, and Dave slowed down for a bit so he could say hello to the guy. When they got near the bottom, there was an explosion right in front of them, but they did not get hurt. That shook him up, too.
Another time it was winter, and they were running along a frozen stream and being shot at. Dave looked up and saw a guy aiming at him across the stream. He knew he would be killed, but right as the guy shot, Dave fell through the ice and the bullets went over his head. I told him he had clearly been saved all those times for some reason. He thought so, too.
Dave also had 2 or 3 Purple Hearts from being wounded. I don’t even know or remember the stories of how he got those, but I know he still had shrapnel pieces in his leg.
The worst thing he ever told me was about when they were in a hand to hand combat situation, and he hit an enemy as hard as he could on the back of the head with the butt of his rifle, and the guy’s eyes came out from the force of it. He was very somber when he told me about that, which was unusual for him, but I was still young and did not realize how horrible he must have really felt.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what all those experiences could do to a person. When I learned about PTSD. When I realized a little bit what the trauma of war can do. I honestly do not know how he was still sane. I do not know how he functioned in his life after that at all.
When he came back from the war, he actually went back to High School and finished. He told his school counselor that he wanted to go to college and learn to design airplane cockpits. He was an excellent sketch artist, and he was drawing them. The counselor laughed at him and told him he could never do that. So he did not try.
He became a salesman and worked for Fuller Brush. He got married pretty soon and had children. He was a great salesman, and he was a terrible husband, by his own admission. He did not talk a lot to me about that time, except to tell me when he was older that he had drunk too much all that time, and that he had been pretty awful. The story of that time belongs to his children from his first marriage, and I won’t comment more, except to say that he knew he had failed with that family.
I remember the first time I met Dave. Mom would take me to this little diner in Poughkeepsie, NY where I loved to get a bologna sandwich with mustard, and chicken noodle soup. Dave was there with his son, and Mom introduced me to them, and I think we sat with them and ate. I was 10 years old, I believe.
My Mom had met Dave because he was her Fuller Brush man. For the younger people who don’t know what that is, it was kind of like a male Avon lady, if you’re even old enough to know what that is 😀. They would come to your house and sell you cleaning products, etc. I don’t know the details or the timing of things that happened, but my Mom and Dave started a relationship (she always called him David). I do not know for sure if Dave was already divorced, but I think he had been for a while. Mom was not divorced yet from my Dad. My Mom was much maligned by many people, including her children to some degree, for having the affair and leaving my Dad, who was a kind, gentle, and brilliant man. It wasn’t until she was on her death bed that she told me things that she had kept to herself all those years that changed my view of her leaving my Dad and having her relationship with Dave. It is good not to judge people.
My parents handled telling me and my brother about their divorce terribly. Divorce was still fairly uncommon over 50 years ago. I only knew one other kid then whose parents were divorced. No one knew how to talk to kids about it, how to tell them. So, my parents opted for not telling us. For a long time we didn’t know. All we knew was that we had gone to Tennessee to see our grandparents, which we did every summer, and our Dad had gone back to New York before us to go back to work, and then Dave showed up, and then we stayed and stayed, longer and longer.
We were too young and naive to realize that when Dave showed up in Tennessee, he wasn’t just a friend of my Mom’s. Finally it got to the point where they felt they had to tell me, and Dave was the one who had to do it! What a terrible thing that was for both of us. At least I knew him a bit by that time, because he had been around all summer. He had me go for a ride with him one night, and he pulled off the side of the road. And this is what I remember that he told me exactly “Your Mom and Dad are divorced, and your Mom and I are married.” He told me later about the sound I made then, that he had only heard a sound like it one other time, and that was when he saw a mother watch her soldier son’s body be taken off the plane, and she dropped to the ground and wailed.
That was a horrific moment in my life. Nothing was ever the same again. Even now, at my advanced age, I still see that as a moment everything changed for me, and I changed, too. It was a terrible beginning to my relationship with Dave, and a totally unfair one for both of us.
For a while I was suicidal. And then for years I hated him. Since I was young, I had no real realization of what the adults were going through during those years, and what it might do to them. There were massive financial stresses on them, and some of that was from moving and trying to make things better for my brother and me. But Dave was still drinking. He didn’t drink constantly, but when he did, it was very scary. He could be violent. He could hit really hard. He was a very “large” personality. He sang loud, he talked loud. He worked hard, he played hard. He was very physical. All of this was very different from my Dad. It was very difficult for me to deal with.
But he was also fun. And he was generous. I learned to play pinochle from him. He and my Mom and my brother would play at night after dinner, and it was super fun. When we were still in Tennessee, I remember him taking us all up into the Smoky Mountains, and we would go to this secluded place beside one of the mountain streams where it had a very deep spot, and we would swim in that super freezing, crystal clear, beautiful place, and we would picnic.
Once we had moved to Florida, my little sister was born. To me she was worth all the pain of the divorce and my bad (at that time) relationship with Dave. She was the joy amidst what was actually a lot of horror to me.
When we moved to Florida I was told it was because Dave’s job with Fuller Brush wasn’t going well in Tennessee. When I was older my Mom told me that he had been doing well, but they had actually moved because my great Uncle had molested me, and they moved so I would never have to see him again. We had lived in a very nice house in Tennessee, but the actual job problems happened after they moved to Florida. Things were financially very rough there for quite a while, but got better once my Mom and Dave opened up a paint and hardware store.
Although Dave was often volatile, and would get really mad, and yell loud, and sometimes hit me, it was usually momentary anger. Even when I mostly hated him, I knew he actually thought very highly of me. He thought I was smart and good. But there was one time when he was really very deeply upset with me.
I think it was the summer after my first year in college or somewhere around that year. My best friend had broken up with her boyfriend, and I started dating him for a short while. It was stupid and one of the worst things I have ever done, but on the night this happened, we were actually deciding to “break up.” The guy and I were at my house alone and talking about how we weren’t going to date any more. We were sitting on the couch talking, and it got later and got dark, and we didn’t turn the lights on. So my Mom and Dave walked in, and thought we had been doing something inappropriate.
Dave was furious! The guy left, and I think my Mom went in her room, but Dave was telling me how awful I was, while I was trying to explain that we had actually only been talking about how we weren’t going to date any more. But then he called me a slut. It was just like he had slapped me. He then said that it was a terrible thing I had done, to date my best friend’s boyfriend, even though they weren’t dating at the time. That a friendship like I had with her was not worth risking for anything. He was right. At the time I thought how unfair he was being, because I hadn’t done anything at all that night except decide not to date him anymore. And Dave had called me a slut for nothing. But he was right. (As an aside, my best friend got back together with the guy, and they got married, and are still married. And she and I are still dear friends. Thankfully she forgave me for my stupidity.)
I won’t go into all the bad things in my early relationship with Dave. From what I have said so far, you can see it was rough. But now none of that matters to me in how I feel about him. And the main reason for that is that there was a day, years later when I was an adult, when again he took me out for a drive to tell me something. But this time it was not a destruction of my life as I knew it, but a healing moment that has had repercussions throughout my whole life. He sat there and took responsibility for everything bad or mean that he had ever done or said to me. And he told me how sorry he was.
I had actually done a lot of work to forgive him before that day, but in that moment, when he took responsibility, and said how sorry he was, the last vestige of bad feelings in me was swept away, and I was healed.
There are so many other things that I could tell about him, but this is a blog post and not a book. But here are a few of them:
When Dave was 6 years old he saw Jesus in the clouds. He told me that once, and after he died we found a short biography that he had started to write about his life, but he didn’t get very far. But he did write about seeing Jesus. It made a big impression on him, and he always believed in God.
I remember that he wanted to quit smoking, and he went to a class to help with that. He came home after the first class and told me about how they had showed them an actual lung from a smoker and a healthy lung. That was all it took. He quit smoking right then and never went back to the class. He had an iron will.
He bought me my first car. A $500 blue Buick LeSabre. Actually it was him and Mom. But after he married Mom, I have the feeling that anytime we were given a big gift or money when it wasn’t a birthday or holiday, that Dave was behind it. And that happened quite often through all the rest of his life.
Dave was an interesting dresser. Some of the outfits I remember him wearing often were a purple ruffled tuxedo shirt, orange overalls with no shirt underneath, socks with sandals, and suspenders with shorts and no shirt. He often embarrassed the teenage me by being very loud and jovial if we went out to eat, or anywhere. He joked a lot.
When our oldest daughter was little, Dave and Mom decided to build her a doll house. It was very complex and had extremely tiny nails like short gold threads. Mom told me about them working on it, and Dave had no shirt on. They dropped several of those tiny nails, and they somehow fell into his copious chest hair. She laughed about searching for those tiny nails through his chest hair. But she also said that they seriously almost divorced over that project. 😆
He and my Mom adopted my littlest sister when they were older. My Mom worked at an unwed mother’s home, and through a long set of circumstances they ended up being able to adopt one of the babies Mom had cared for there. It seems very clear to me looking back that Dave tried to make up for all his previous messed up parenting by filling her days with songs, and fun, and great experiences. They were very close.
He did the same thing with my children. They all loved their Granddaddy so much. Our oldest daughter wrote an amazing eulogy for his funeral. He was fun and loving and larger than life to them.
There was a year not too long before he died when I got to spend a lot of time with him. At that time he worked selling medical supplies to people in their homes. We lived next door to Dave and Mom, and money was tight for us, so he had me come work with him on some days, and he split his pay with me. By that time he had some pretty bad heart problems, so it was easier for him if I would drive us to our appointments, which were sometimes pretty far away. During those drives he would tell me stories about his life, and we would talk and talk about all kinds of stuff. That was a wonderful time for me. I hope it was for him, too.
I remember the day when he was in the hospital with his bad heart, and me and my Mom were sitting in a room with the doctor telling us how dire the situation was. He said the tests showed that Dave’s heart was very damaged and enlarged. The doctor said Dave must have had multiple heart attacks that no one knew about. The arteries were very clogged. All they could do was bypass surgery, but he warned that with such a damaged heart, the risks of him not surviving it were high. It felt very surreal to me. They did the surgery, and he did survive it. But I remember being with him in the hospital room during his recovery, and he was in so much pain as he tried to get up and go to the bathroom, and he was moaning, and it was heartbreaking. He had always been so incredibly strong and brave.
After that he changed a lot. I wasn’t with him a lot the next few months before he died because we lived further away. But my Mom told me how he became so patient, and gentle, and kind. He was too ill to really go out to work anymore, so my Mom would go on the sales calls with my littlest sister, who was still just a young teenager.
On the day he died, my Mom and sister had been out most of the day, I think. Mom said when she walked in the front door of the house, that she knew he had died because she could feel it. She went in their bedroom, and he was lying on the bed with the TV on, calm and peaceful looking, with his feet crossed at the ankles, just how he always lay in bed, and he was gone.
Bagpipes were played at his funeral. He loved bagpipes. The hole he left was as large as his personality, and it has never been filled.
I learned so much from Dave. Even when life was so hard for me with him when I was young, and even when I thought I hated him, I knew he loved me and thought I was pretty great. In fact, except for my husband, Dave is the person in my life who I felt loved me unconditionally, and who I knew even if I did crappy stuff, he would still like me. I also always knew that I could have gone to him for help in any circumstance. It was a weird thing when I realized that, and not something I can fully articulate even now.
From experiences with Dave, I learned about forgiveness. I learned about not judging. I learned that almost everyone is damaged by stuff we don’t comprehend. I know now that if we attempt to improve and fight against our demons, that that is pretty much all that can be expected of anyone. I learned that extremely flawed people can nevertheless be heroic.
So Dave, I wrote it, as you asked. I hope it is enough. You already know I forgive you for everything, because I have told you many times. I feel from you that you don’t hold anything against anyone, either. And that is the way to forgiveness. Thank you for everything you did for me. I love you always. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️