I've known Dave one day less than his wife (and my sister) Kathy.
He was at times a father figure, a brother and a best friend.
When I was nine years old he married my sister and took her away from our family. For that alone, he garnered my undying admiration.
Let me say this right here: Dave was the best possible addition to that strange agglomeration of Muellers and Healeys that we called family, period. Judie and Rose will have to fight it out for second.
Dave was always there with that great attitude and word of sage advice. Again when I was nine and to my other sister's boyfriends just a "pesky kid brother", Dave took time out with me and taught me how to throw a spiral pass with a football. Or should I say, he tried to teach me how to throw a spiral pass with a football, I never quite got the wobbles out and Dave gave me his first piece advice. Advice that I have remembered and used through the years.
"Kenny," he said, "you need to grow you some fingers."
Dave also taught that skinny, confused kid that was me about the mysteries of sex. No, he didn't give me the embarrassing "birds and bees" lecture, I just caught him humping my sister.
Also he took me to see the James Bond movie DOCTOR NO on a date with Kathy. From my vantage point three rows back, I studied all of his moves. I learned a few from Sean Connery too.
Dave would always take me fishing when my father came to visit, although I admit that some of the finer points were lost on a bookworm geek like me. He tried to show me how to cast from the side as I had a great propensity for loosing sinker and hook with my ungainly overhand attempts. One day I had lost about 5 and each time had to run all the down the mile long dock to get another one. After about the 6th time, Dave took me aside, gave me a dollar and offered this bit of wisdom, words that would serve me well later in life and all through my drinking days:
"Kenny," he said, "Why not buy twelve of them."
Dave also gave me the opportunity to be an uncle, something that I will love him for forever, because no matter how much I sucked in real life or how fucked up I was, David, Dawn, Donnie and Dee were genetically incapable of seeing in me anything but a hero, something I took seriously and tried to live up to.
By the time I was finishing college and Dave was finishing his stint in the Navy, we discovered something else in common. Drinking. In fact I was living with Dave and Kathy the first time I imbibed. I was only twenty-two at the time and the light headed giddiness had gotten to me when I staggered to their door and puked and fell to my knees and retched some more. It was Dave that came to the door (he said he thought the dog was dying) and offered me these life illuminating words of wisdom:
"Kenny," he said, "You can get up and clean up, or you can lay there and sleep in your own vomit..."
As a drinking buddy, Dave had no peer. You just could not drink him under the table, therefore you always knew you had a ride home. Sometimes we would talk of life, sometimes as drinkers do, we'd kiss the pasts'
ass all night long. Stories and songs, it was about that time that I realized that Dave believed in me. No longer was I a hopelessly inept kid but a man worthy of respect and advice. When I brought Judie up to the farm, he told me:
"Ken, she's a keeper."
And then I was off growing a family of my own and though years would pass, each time I saw him, we picked up right off where we had left off. I was homesteading in Florida and Dave had gone through the whole animal bit with Kathy - chickens, goats, rabbits, etc., so when my own rabbits were just about ripe for the freezer, I called Dave up for a bit of advice.
"Dave, " I asked him, "I know you whack the rabbit with a heavy stick to stun him, but how hard do you whack him?"
And David, wise as Confucious, gave me the following advice, words that have helped me all through my life.
"Kenny," Dave replied, "If you hit the rabbit and he looks back up at you, you didn't hit him hard enough. On the other hand, if you hit the rabbit and its brains end up all over your shirt, well then, you hit him too hard."
One day, back in the days when I was living on the farm on 18 mile, Dave and I were sitting in a bar and he was more serious than I'd ever seen him. It took a while to get it out of him, I'd never seen him like this before. Usually whatever life dealt Dave he could deal with it.
He rolled with punches with all the agility of a rodeo clown.
Seems like his kids were growing up and he was having doubts for the first time that he'd done right by them. Maybe he hadn't made enough money to give them what they wanted. It was the first time I got to offer a little advice to Dave.
"You gave them memories, Dave. Memories of a father who never faltered, memories of a man who didn't retreat from responsibility, but didn't let it deaden his soul. I brought up a recent incident when we had all the kids out cutting winter wood and Dave was having a particular bad day with the chain saw. It'd pop and sputter, run for a while and die halfway into the tree (sort of like my sex life) he'd throw the thing a good 30 feet, walk over to it and look down at it as if to say "had enough?" And the situation would repeat itself. Trouble was, no wood and we'd freeze, and Dave knew it. I had a brand new twelve pack in the back of the truck and to diffuse the situation, I offered one to Dave and offered one to myself. Me and Dave now had something to do, but the kids - Davy, Donny, and Dawn were standing around freezing and looking really pissed so I gave one to them too and we all sat around in the snow drinking Buckhorn Beer and getting really, really diffused and laughing and throwing sticks into the back of the truck, when the chainsaw started feeling left out and joined the party, cutting through wood as if there was no tomorrow. Back at the house Kathy was making biscuits and to her eternal credit did not come down on us as we explained the diffusement.
I only regret that she might have felt left out.
At most funerals people get up and say something about the deceased and if you listen real careful, you'll realize that they are talking about a certain aspect of the person that they knew, a side of them that they were shown and familiar with. Sometimes its hard to believe that they are talking about the same person.
Not so with Dave, there's no composite portrait needed here, with Dave you got the whole thing. Pretense was beneath him. It was the real deal or nothing at all. He was as open as a Taoist monk, with a laugh that
broke down all barriers. He could be serious when the situation warranted, but he was best at staying out of those situations. Everyone that Dave had contact with couldn't help but be lifted by his spirit and his outlook in life. Maybe that's why we got along so well... opposites attract. I'm the serious sort, given to God hating, morose moods and prone to bemoan the human condition. One last thing that Dave told me that HAS stuck with me all my life:
"Kenny," he said, "you like to bang your head against the wall because it feels so good when you stop."
You have no idea how many times in my life I have found myself banging my proverbial head against the
imaginary wall and just stopped, smiled, and gotten on with my life.
It's what Dave would've wanted. Anything else would be just plain useless.
I tried to write this as I would speak it standing in the back yard with Dave right there at the picnic table. I tried to put in enough humor to make him smile, no mean feat when I feel like part of my life has been truncated and that my future is not as rich or as fun or as stable without him. This humor of course was at my own and the people he loved expense and it was not meant to cut in any way. Perhaps the greatest loss of all is Dave's spontaneous laughter, a laughter that said that all was right with the world and that it was okay for all of us to laugh at ourselves.