One of the recurring aspects of research about David's life was the theme of storytelling: not only was he an admired storyteller, but jeveryone I interviewed had one or more really interesting stories to tell about him. Sometimes those stories overlapped with multiple interviewees. (That makes a biographer's work so much easier.) Once the book was finished, I assumed I was done hearing David stories by others. But it wasn't to be.
Since Pluck was published, I have heard from many readers who knew David, and many of them with interesting stories that were new to me since I finished the research. I've also heard from a few people who were not aware the book was published, but who reached out in response to my search for them during the research for the bio. Much to my surprise, this week I received a message from someone whom I had tried to contact two years ago to no avail. It turns out he had many things going on in his life at that time. I was grateful that he remembered and reached out late rather than not at all because he was very kind and had some interesting stories from David's childhood to share. The fact that he did finally want to talk with me is a testimony for the great affection he clearly feels for his long ago friend.
One of his stories had to do with an incident he witnessed when they were both teenagers in La Marque, Texas. My new interviewee shared what life was like in the sixties for teenage boys. There were the "long hairs" and "the rednecks" as he described them. David was a "long hair," somewhat slight compared to his friend who was much bigger. One day, his friend was passing by and noticed a gang of "rednecks" circling around David on the sidewalk in town ("All nice guys, but they didn't like the "long-hairs" he told me). They were trash talking to him as they got ready to hold him down and cut off his long hair; it was something they were wont to do whenever they encountered someone who looked hippyish.
David was no match for the circle of boys itching to be his unwelcome barbers. His friend, however, made his way over to the circle to defend him. He told the "rednecks"--whom he knew and got along with fine--to leave David alone and cut his hair instead if they wanted to cut someone's hair off. He is a big guy, so, the bullies backed off.
This story has stuck with me since I heard it. It was a courageous and touching act of friendship, of course, but it also made me wonder about the random events that can happen to us in our youth that often have a significant impact on our developihng character and values when we are in our young, formative years. Specifically, I think about the outside events, out of our control, that are so impactful that the event becomes a kind of pivot point in our growth. One of the many things I learned about David the adult was that he was fiercely protective of his friends. Nowadays, people seem to sacrifice loyalty to friends or family because they don't like or are afraid of conflict. I heard time and again that David was not afraid of conflict when it came to defending someone he cared about. Did he learn that value from his friend that rescued him? Was that incident a pivot point for his developing values in life?
David's friend has and had such great affection and sensitivity for him that he did many other good deeds for him during the difficult period of David's life when he had already lost his mother and was about to lose his father. And it appears David never forgot it. David went out of his way to visit his friend whenever he was traveling in Arkansas, and maintained a correspondence with him despite his busy life. While David still had little material goods as an adult, he gave him gifts that he could: his cassettes and CDs and his friendship.
So, the purpose of this post is to pass on the opportunity to muse: what outside events, no matter how small, are the key pivot points in your own development that have helped shape your character and values today? We had new friends over the other night, and over our Mexican dinner I asked them to think back and share one of their pivot points. It led to one of the most interesting dinner conversations I've had with friends in a long time.