News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

September 19, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: Some of the world’s best people were born on Sept. 20

TERRE HAUTE — Before my dad died, the primary reason I was glad he shared the same birthday as my brother-in-law was because it made my life easier: I rarely forgot to send Dave a card, too.

Now, that Daddy’s gone, there’s a more compelling reason. Without Dave, Sept. 20 would be a sad, weird day. I would instinctively want to mark and celebrate it as one on which an important person was born but, where my dad had been for 54 years of my life, there would be only a void.

Having Dave around on Sept. 20 fills the void and makes me feel less deprived. I can still associate the day with a great guy I know and love.

The date also allows me to contemplate (and give thanks for) the rich friendship my father and his son-in-law developed from the time my sister and Dave were dating in high school until they married, got divorced, then — almost 20 years later — got married again. (That’s another story for another day.)

Dave was better than the son my dad never had. His folks had to do all the heavy parental lifting that comes with raising a child; Dad had only to sit back and reap the rewards of their job well done.

To hear my sister and mother tell it, Daddy and Dave were peas in a pod, “typical Virgos,” as Mom often puts it. Their birthday and deep love for my sister, Debbie, are just two of the many things they had in common.

 Born in this part of Indiana, both of them came from big, close families. Dad was one of 10 kids who survived into adulthood. Dave is one of seven. Both had hard-working fathers and mothers, the latter of whom adored their boys and were, in turn, adored by those sons. Like their many siblings, Dave and my dad would have done anything to make their mothers’ lives better, more comfortable, even a little luxurious.

Dad’s mom was Scotch-Irish, Dave’s Italian. Both women knew lean times and 100 ways to make a small chunk of meat satisfy a house full of kids and a husband who could have persnickety tastes. When my grandmother died, part of my dad went with her, a piece of his tender heart. My brother-in-law is missing the same slice.

My dad never said specifically how much he loved his birthday-mate son-in-law, but everything he did say about him showed it. He was proud of Dave’s awesome work ethic (takes one to know one), which included back-breaking summer jobs to earn money for college and veterinary school.

Watching a football or basketball game with Dave, especially if Purdue was playing, was about as good as a weekend got for Dad. Making a joke and watching Dave crack up and let fly with his famous cackle probably made Dad happier than if he’d gotten a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall.

Because my father had two daughters and three granddaughters, and his brothers were far-flung, he didn’t get to do much male bonding until Debbie’s and Dave’s second time around. Dave’s company was like a portable man-cave for Dad. They could talk Colts, golf, hoops, business, beer and one of their most-beloved pursuits — lawn mowing.

Although Dave has never broken Dad’s confidences, I’m sure they also could talk women and the sometimes mysterious, confounding terrain we inhabit. I imagine Dad and Dave talking about “relationships” and I am reminded of the humorist Roy Blount’s succinct observation about the gulf between the sexes: “I think the things that make women cry are the same things that make men say, ‘Well, s---.’”

I’m sure Dave said that a lot during the five months my dad was so sick with the lung cancer that would kill him. Unlike my mom, my sister, me and Dad’s team of doctors, Dave never believed Dad could beat the metastasized beast. His patients might be dogs and cats, but animal pathology is animal pathology.

Dave didn’t tell anybody what he’d known in his heart and head until a few years after Dad died. It wouldn’t have done any good anyway. No one was in the market for “no hope” when Dad got his diagnosis. So Dave carried his sorry burden around alone, wishing he’d be proven wrong.

That must have made their last birthday together very rough. Daddy could barely swallow a bite of cake because radiation had practically fossilized his esophagus. Dave might as well have had a Titleist lodged in his throat for all the celebrating he felt like doing.

I was 2,000 miles away in San Francisco for that birthday, readying my house for rental and packing my car to move back to Terre Haute. Dave was the only person who knew the futility of all our telephoned promises to “really celebrate together next year.”

This will be the sixth Sept. 20 without my father. Despite the passage of years, I still get caught short, reflexively thinking, “I need to tell Daddy about this,” then realizing in a split-second that he’s gone.

Just the other day, after I’d been talking wedding details with my intended, I had one of those inclinations. When reality smothered it, I allowed myself simply to imagine how happy — and amazed — my dad would be to know his 60-year-old daughter is finally getting married.

I figure he would be scratching his head about as often as I do these days, wondering at the improbable series of events that has led not just to me marrying, but to the man I will be calling “husband.”

See, he’s one of Dave’s brothers, another family-loving, hard-working, life-embracing product of their parents’ extraordinary care. Dad would be blown away. Two of them in the family. What are the odds — with only two daughters?

The great thing is that Dave (who will be my brother-in-law twice over) is pretty happy about all this, too. He and my sister (soon sister-in-law) essentially willed Bill and me into being with their nudges and prayers. It’s hard not to think Dad helped out, somehow, as well. Kind of like a birthday present for himself — and everybody else.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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