Have you ever noticed that when you lose someone, you tend to forget everything they ever did to annoy you and just remember the good stuff? I wonder why that is. Navigating death’s pitfalls would be a lot easier if God just completely wiped out the good memories and all we had were the bad. We’d be so busy celebrating their demise, we wouldn’t have time to grieve. Right? Of course, we also wouldn’t have those little memories that break through our sorrow and make us smile.
I’m going through that right now. As you probably know, four of my main characters are VERY loosely based on four of my closest friends. Maggie, Randy, Mary, and Danny. As in the novels, Maggie and Randy are married, as are Mary and Danny. I’ve known all four of them for what seems like a lifetime, and we’ve gone through a lot together. Our latest life-changing event happened a few weeks ago when Danny died. He had been sick, but his death was totally unexpected. Never in our wildness imaginations would we ever think Mary would outlive him, because, as in the books, she does have kidney disease. But Danny was there one minute and gone the next. In the time since his death, I’ve had some memories pop up I’d like to share with you.
In the novels, I’ve made Danny a somewhat goofy character. In real life, he was also goofy. Even though there were quite a few times I wanted to choke the life out of him, he normally could make me laugh. Not quite sure if I was laughing at him or with him, but it probably didn’t matter. One time we were playing Trivial Pursuit. We decided to play boys against girls, so Mary and I teamed up, as did Ed and Danny. Not really a fair match because the IQ on the girls’ side was about 700% higher than on the boys’ side.
Ed is very good at science, history, and geography questions, and Danny was good at sports. Mary and I excelled at the art/literature and entertainment ones and could more than hold our own on all of them. Because Danny was smart enough to know he was terrible at the game, he came up with a system. His standard answer for most questions became “Gone With the Wind.” Stupid answer if the question is about outer space, but he didn’t care. And believe me, he used that answer a gazillion times, normally when it made no sense.
We were getting to the end of the game and the girls were winning (duh) but it was a close game. They had a chance to pull ahead, but it was a literature question. They hadn’t gotten one right in that category all night, so we were feeling pretty cocky. Then the question. I don’t remember the exact question, but I immediately knew the answer. So did Mary. We looked at each other and groaned. We knew it was going to be game over, because the answer was Gone with the Wind. I figured Ed would know, but he didn’t. They discussed it for a minute, decided they were clueless, and we knew Danny was getting ready to give his standard answer.
I don’t remember what he blurted out, but I know one thing. He didn’t use his stock answer. Mary and I were laughing so hard, we couldn’t even tell them why. They kept looking at us like we were crazy. When we finally regained enough control to tell them, I really wish I had a photograph of their faces. Danny sat there in stunned silence, and I could tell by the look on Ed’s face that we’d be lucky if he didn’t punch Danny in the face. Thankfully they both realized exactly how comical that was and joined in. So, we all had a good laugh. Mary and I more so because we won.
In a lot of ways, Danny could be like a two-year old. (Which is why we probably got along so well.) After they had moved away from San Antonio, he had to come back for an AF training course. Instead of staying on the base, he stayed with me, which was very handy. Danny and I put together a bunch of bookcases to furnish my library. I came home from work one day and he was in the kitchen, looking terribly guilty. You know that look. One your dog will give you when he’s chewed up your favorite shoe, or a two-year old will give you when you catch them stealing cookies. In this case, it wasn’t cookies Danny was stealing, it was lasagna. I had made up a batch and we had it for dinner, then froze the rest so we could have it later. Of course, that became pointless, because Danny had gotten into the freezer. He bypassed all the ice cream and ate all the lasagna. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who gives you those puppy-dog eyes and tells you it was very good.
The brakes had gone out on my 1967 Bonneville, and Danny volunteered to fix them. It turned out I also needed a master cylinder, so Danny put one on. My job was to pump the brakes when he told me. So, we spent hours (literally) with Danny trying to fix the cylinder and me listening to “pump, pump, pump, hold” approximately four thousand times. I had done that so many times I strained my calf muscle. Didn’t work. It took him a day, but he finally figured out the master cylinder we bought was bad. A quick replacement, one “pump, pump, pump, hold” and I was back on the road. For the next few weeks, every time we’d see each other, the conversation started with “pump, pump, pump, hold.”
Even though he was good at mechanics, he wasn’t really very good at little things most people take for granted. Like your wife in Florida visiting her sick father, and you having two little girls to care for at Easter. I asked him late the night before what kind of Easter baskets he bought. Yep. You guessed it. Nothing. So, I stopped everything and rushed to the store. That was in the days when shopping was more limited than it is now, and it was late enough that there wasn’t an Easter basket to be had. I ended up buying candy and putting it in one of those empty hanging baskets you put plants into. Worked like a charm. Luckily the girls were young enough they never noticed the Easter bunny was a little challenged that year, but I don’t think Danny ever fully realized how close he’d come to destroying two little girls’ psyches.
I have a million Danny stories, and like most of life’s escapades, some are good, some not so much. I still have the letters we exchanged when he was deployed during Desert Storm. Since I’m much older now, I almost need a magnifying glass to read them. If you look at a letter Danny wrote, you’re hard pressed to tell if it was hand-written or done on a typewriter. The lettering was teeny tiny. That was a trying time for all of us who had someone overseas. We could watch it while it unfolded on TV, because of the imbedded reporters. We spent a great deal of our time holding our breath and fearing the worst.
Like most returning vets, Danny came back with problems, and some of his childishness disappeared. He wasn’t quite the same old Danny. One thing hadn’t changed, though. He and I shared a special bond, probably because I wasn’t afraid to pull rank on him and he knew it. The hardest part about getting old, not counting the achiness that constantly hangs around, is losing people who have been such a big part of your life. I’m lucky. In one way, Danny still lives, because he’s in the novels. I’ve written the Danny character to reflect his silliness, and when I’m writing something where he’s being goofy, his face flashes in front of me.
With all his foibles, I have no doubt I’ll see him again, because I know where he is. I know what was in his heart, and basically Danny was a good, God-fearing man. One of these days, I’ll be crossing over myself and he’ll be waiting to greet me. I have no doubt that greeting will be, “pump, pump, pump, hold.” RIP, my friend. You are missed.