Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some People Leave a Mark

I got word (via Facebook) this weekend that a childhood friend passed away. It's been at least 20 years since I last saw him, yet the news has settled on me like a big, dark cloud. I've spent the last several evenings pouring through old photo albums and jotting down memories about Dave Evans and his family, which has pulled up a lot of memories of others from the community where I grew up, as well. It's impossible to think about the Evans family without also thinking about the Robbs, the Houdeshells, the Woydziaks, the Dirks. There was a golden age of my youth when big neighborhood get togethers were rather frequent. Building hayloft forts, exploring old barns and granaries, taking long walks down dark and dusty roads with gangs of neighbor kids... I remember begging my mother to host one more party where we could invite everyone.

Dave was Bill's big brother. One of three big brothers, actually. There was Butch, who was pretty much grown up from the beginning, as far as my memory serves. Then came Jim who I remember fondly as my brother Mike's best friend. Dave was a few grades ahead of Bill and I in school, but close enough in age that he was part of our group at those neighborhood gatherings. The Evans family lived a mile and three-quarters east and then a half-mile north in a tidy green house always struck me as new and very different than the old farm houses that most of the neighbors lived in.

Early-day memories of spending time with Dave were simply a side effect of spending so much time with Bill who was my good friend and schoolmate. I was also from a family of four, but with a larger gap of years between me and my siblings. So Dave was something of a big brother by extension. I learned a lot from Bill and Dave about what it was like to have a sibling as a near-constant companion, someone who could be both a great playmate and a thorn in the side. Dave could be both, from my point of view. Sometimes he was great fun to have around; sometimes he was an endless source of irritation.

One moment of Dave's big brotherly best stands out. My mom and I were out on horseback one day. We'd been riding the ornery pony, and when we would ride, we'd often stop and visit neighbors and sometimes give their kids rides, as well. I was leading the horse while Bill rode. Dave met us out near the ditch and it was decided that he would ride, too, only when Dave went to step in the stirrup to pull himself up on the horse, the entire saddle slid sideways and Bill ended up on the ground... covered in stickers from head to toe. It was awful. I felt so bad, mostly because I was absolutely no help in pulling those vicious burrs out. They were the bristley kind that grabbed and held on from every angle. Dave, however, went right to work at plucking until every sticker was removed. Perhaps, he felt guilty for putting his brother on the ground in the first place, but I remember distinctly when the look on his face changed from considering it a situation he could easily make fun of to helping his brother out of sticky and painful situation.

When I was a kid, it was good to know Dave as he was one of the "safe" big kids that rode the bus to school each day. Dave entered high school as I entered junior high. The neighborhood gatherings were fewer and farther between, but since our families were friends, our paths still crossed frequently.

I remember driving through Boot Hill parking lot in high school and seeing Dave in his sporty green muscle car. He was the kind of guy who would simply open the door as you slowed down and get in if there were seats available in the car. We'd cruise Wyatt Earp and talk about just anything. Dave was a smart guy whose topics could range from quantum physics, to the supposed last thoughts of a bug in flight just before it met its demise on the windshield of your car. It was Dave Evans who taught me the meaning of the word, erudite. I always thought it was a word that aptly described his family.

One time I remember my car was already full. Dave knocked on the door and instructed me to turn off my engine and give him the keys. That I did so, without question, I suppose shows the amount of faith I had in the guy. Dave went to the back of my small station wagon (I always drove whatever car my dad made available, I was never concerned about looking cool) and opened the hatch. He folded his knees up to his chin and got in. He passed the keys forward and we proceeded to cruise all evening with Dave entertaining us from the way back.

The last time I saw Dave was around 1994 or 95. I was living in Houston and visiting my folks in Dodge City. Dave just happened to be passing through town, his family had left Kansas by that time. His older brother, Jim, had recently passed away. Dave was still processing the loss, still grieving. We spent the afternoon visiting and catching up. Dave helped my husband clean some catfish we had caught at the neighbor's tailwater pit. It was a pleasant surprise, seeing Dave, and I guess I've always assumed we would catch up again one day, in precisely the same way. Our paths would just happen to cross. We'd share a meal and a beer. We'd share a few stories. We'd laugh. We'd remember those we've lost.

And then I got the news of Dave's passing, and that opportunity to catch up one last time is gone now. Well perhaps not gone completely, as thinking about Dave has stirred many memories. I've even visited with several of the folks from my growing-up-days in my dreams these past few nights. I've enjoyed catching up with others on Facebook, and reading Dave stories I never knew, as well. It reminds me of all the many ways we are connected, which is a topic I could imagine discussing with Dave on a late-night cruise up and down Wyatt Earp Boulevard.

Dave Evans, Dodge City, 1989

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Most Memorable Books Read in 2013

I've gotten better about putting aside books that don't hold my interest (rather than just taking weeks and weeks and weeks to get them read), so one could say pretty much every book I made it through in 2013 was top notch. (Not a complete list, but if I managed to get a review written you can consider it recomended.) A review of my reading journal, however, and these are the books that stand out as highlights of my reading year.

Brain on Fire: My month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan
It awoke the curious psych major I once was! A fastinating view of the journey toward madness. Extremely well written and informative.

A Field Guide to Now: Notes on Mindfulness and Life in the Present Tense, by Christina Rosalie
This is one I actually managed to take the time to review. A wonderful collection of essays. This book remains at the top of my list as potential gift material for thinking young mothers.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green
I am perhaps a bit late on the John Green scene, but my kids are huge fans and I have finally caught up on recomended reading. This is, I believe, my favorite of his books so far.

Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder, by Diana Staresinic-Deane
It's local. Very well researched and written. I learned some really cool history about my adopted hometown. Creeped me out a bit, too. (Hey, it's a TRUE story.)

Wool, by Hugh Howey
There is no getting around it. Hugh Howey has become my latest author infatuation. I fell for Wool, Shift, and Dust is next on the night stand.

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman
Have not watched the television show, but I highly recomend the book. Eye opening. Page turner. I learned a lot and it changed my mind on some thoughts about drugs and the US prison system.

Yesterday Road, by Kevin Brennan
This guy can write. I find that most books are predictable, but I didn't really see the end to this one coming. It brought tears to my eyes, but it made me happy at the same time. I will be watching for more from this author.

Someone Else's Love Story, by Joshilyn Jackson
It's a well-known fact that I'm in love with Joshilyn. I'm also in love with her latest book. I think it may be her best yet.

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