I have five brothers, four living. My younger brother David was killed in a motorcycle accident thirty years ago this week. Thirty years. And I still think of him.
David was probably the most witty and clever of the bunch. Even as a young child he had the most developed sense of humor. Most of my memories of him are in moments of levity.
Back in about 1964 our oldest brother bought a 1956 Chevy and immediately began the process of installing a new engine/motor/power train – whatever you call those things. He ordered a ‘short block six cylinder from the Montgomery Wards Catalog.’ In the true spirit of hillbillies, the gang assembled for the installation. The gang of shade tree mechanics included my father, an uncle, an old friend of my father, and my oldest brother. They rented a hoist to lift the engine and went to work in the open space of our back yard – guided by the spirit of hillbilly logic.
I think I was about fourteen, David was nine. He and I watched the process of building an automobile engine literally from the ground up. Those were days of mechanical adjustments to engine performance. Little screws on the carburetor were adjusted for the proper fuel and air mixture. Proper adjustment was determined by skilled ears, listening to the puttering of the engine, then adjusting either air or fuel to ‘tune up the engine.’
When the hard manual labor was complete the moment of truth was at hand. They turned the ignition switch and the engine sputtered to life – the time of adjustment was at hand. David was always curious. He put his hands on the front fender and studied the gurgling engine. As he looked back at us he realized the moment of humor was at hand. David stood back, his right hand on the fender, and began shaking in rhythm to the jerking motion of a newborn, un-tuned engine.
Another younger brother and I were hee-hawing at the visible physical humor – but the humor was lost on the shade tree mechanics – they did not think David was very funny. It was time for us young’uns to exit the yard – or risk the wrath of who-knows-what.
David grew up and joined the Navy in what the military refers to as the ‘Vietnam Era.’ At least – that is what it says on his military paid for headstone. I think he served on the USS Forestall, with one tour of duty in the Mediterranean. When he left the Navy he bought a motorcycle and toured the East Coast, settling in Key West, Florida, with other lost souls. They partied on the coastal beaches, smoking marijuana and drinking beer, a traditional military program of reintroduction to civilian life.
It was on the causeway of the Florida Keys that David’s motorcycle hit a bridge. There was never a clear explanation of what happened. The only witness was a girl riding with him – and she was not clear in her evaluation of the circumstances. The cause makes no difference today.
Grief lives on.
My parents have been married for sixty-three years. Many family pictures were on display at their sixtieth wedding celebration in the social room of their church. The pictures were arranged chronologically along several tables. I walked along, studying the pictorial history. About a third of the way through the progression David ceased to exist in the pictures. All of the rest of us married, had children, careers, homes, lives.
I cannot help but wonder what David’s life would have been. I am certain of only this – my life would have been better if he had been around.
At the very least, I would have had many more laughs.
P.S. I should mention that we had one sister.