I wrote to a friend that it is strange to think that I am in this world without my older brother and sister. They were always constants in my life and now there is a void where there presence once was. Even knowing they were a state away, they were still tangible and I knew that if I had a bad day or just needed to hear their voices, I could call them. It was an eight hour drive, but I knew that there was a hug and a smile from them just eight hours a way.
We always assumed that losing Linda would be the hardest thing in the world, but somehow this loss seems more difficult. She had been so ill and become so debilitated by cancer that there was a small comfort in knowing that her years of fighting were over. David's illness began a little over a year ago and we thought he would be around for at least a few more years. I told him once that I thought he must have cockroach DNA, because he seemed indestructible. I think because we were so emotionally close to Linda our entire lives, but David had been so distant to us through his drug years, that his death is hitting us so very hard. I only became close to David after Linda's death, like a second string player whose chosen to play after the star player is out of the game. Slowly we built a relationship after he got sober and we became closer still in the last few years. His illness changed our relationship drastically after we went to care for him last Christmas. I don't think that he really knew we loved him until he got sick, and that saddens me greatly.
There was an ice storm in Little Rock just before we arrived. We witnessed the devastation it caused as we drove up I-30 and saw so many trees cracked and broken by the weight of the ice. David owned David's Tree Service in Little Rock, and he loved a good ice storm. He was not ghoulish about the devastation, but he knew that his phone would be ringing off the hook during a season that was normally not a busy time for his business. An ice storm was the chance to help people and to keep his crew working and earning money to support their families, and if the damage was extensive, they would be working for many weeks throughout the winter months.
While in Little Rock making the arrangements for David's funeral, I carried his phone and fielded calls from customers and from friends. Each call was wrenching and fascinating. Every single call was a window into his life that had not previously been open and those glimpses into how he impacted so many people over so many years breaks my heart and gives me great joy. I was shocked at how many of his customers broke down and cried while telling me what a great man he was and how much he had helped them over the years. They all spoke of his sense of humor and what an excellent service he provided. Most of them had something to say about the way he drove his crew to work to his exact specifications. I took a call Saturday evening, after the funeral was over and we were settling into our grief. The call was from Herman the German who called to tell David he was driving a truck through a place that David always wanted to visit, but never got the chance. Immediately I said, "You are in the Redwood Forest," and he replied that he was. He was very sad at the news that David died the morning of New Year's Eve. He said in his German accent, "I want to tell my story of how I met David." He recounted to me that he had just arrived in America in 1993 and was hitch hiking, and David was the first person to pick him up. He said, "He gave me a ride and he gave me a job." He talked of working for David and learning the tree business, and how eventually he was able to start his own tree company. "I had that company for 5 years and it was very successful, but I didn't like it." He sold his business and went traveling to "Ireland, Canada, and Maui." He wound up back in Little Rock last year and called David and told him, "I am back and I am going to drive trucks, but my job does not start for three months, can I work for you?" and David hired him back and they spend a lot of time together during those three months. Herman said he would continue to talk to David, because he thinks that they can hear you, even after they are dead. I don't know that they can't, so I hope he does and that it comforts him as it will comfort me to know that he remains in the thoughts of so many people.
David was a warm and funny man much of the time, but I never envied anyone who worked for him, especially his sons. His perfectionism on the job and his inability to communicate a directive without bellowing drove his boys away from the business he built for them. They both grew up steeped in the tree business, but neither son could work for my brother, and I understand too well why. His death has left the business to them and to my happy surprise they want to honor their father by keeping the company alive. David had a partner in his business, Orin, who has been in the tree business at least as long as David was. They were friends in their youth and worked together off and on over the years. Both David and Orin had similar work ethics, but their leadership styles differed dramatically and I think that under his tutelage my nephews may flourish, and in time even grow the business. I know that David would be proud of them for trying. I am proud of them for not taking the easy route and trying to succeed in the business their father taught them.