We kids had absolutely no chance during an after-dinner family discussion because, quite frankly, we were completely and utterly outgunned intellectually. As soon as my mom or my stepfather took an opposing stand on any issue (often playing the Devil’s advocate as they loved to do), we instantly knew it was over. Quite simply, at that moment we knew we were goners, even if we knew we were right.
My friends and I always called my stepfather Dr. Dave. He was a great chiropractor who earned a justly deserved reputation as a true healer. He treated many patients even though he knew he would never earn a dime from them. He always said that just came with the territory. Although he was not a medical doctor, he served for many years on the state medical quality assurance board. That always impressed me.
He met my mother a few months after my father died, and they fell in love. Soon my brother and I and Dr. Dave’s two children found ourselves ripped from citified San Diego and transplanted into rural Fresno, then a farming town with a population of about 100,000, so he could open The Renaissance, Fresno’s first folk music nightly venue. A couple of years later Dr. Dave and my mother had a child together, and from then on we were always referred to as “his, hers and ours.”
Dr. Dave died last week at 84 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He had traveled to China several times to study Chinese medicine, and during his last trip more than a decade ago as he slept in the backseat of a car, it collided head-on with a semi-truck. Dr. Dave was thrown through the windshield and lost an eye along with many other injuries.
His health quickly declined, and he never really recovered. His passing wasn’t unexpected, and given the poor quality of life he experienced the past few years, his death is probably a kind of blessing in some ways.
The evening of his passing my sister Karma (the ours child) and I (last of the hers brothers) shared some happy memories from our childhood. She reminded me of the time when a group of professionals in Fresno decided to form a local MENSA group. MENSA members must score in the top 2 percent of the population on an IQ test.
So all these doctors, lawyers, hangers-on and some of their wives took the IQ test and waited for the results to come in so they could form their group.
Well, Dr. Dave came home for dinner one evening and my mother presented him with a letter from MENSA — his results.
He anxiously tore open the envelope and proudly announced to all of us at the dinner table that he had earned the second highest score in the county — which he considered quite an honor.
“But I wonder who scored the highest?” he asked out loud.
My mom, who started working at 14 to help support her family during The Great Depression (they lived for a time in an old car body underneath a bridge outside of Fort Worth, Texas) and barely made it through elementary school, squirmed a little, blushed a lot and finally pulled her letter out from under her placemat as Dr. Dave’s question continued to furrow his brow.
With a shy smile, she handed her letter to Dr. Dave, and as it turns out she had beaten him on the IQ test by a few points. She, in fact, had earned the highest score in the county. That was a startling revelation for everyone in the family (including Dr. Dave), let me tell you.
Truth be told, such intelligence can be quite intimidating (and sometimes I think people this smart are actually too smart for their own good). When people try to tell me how smart I am, I laugh and shake my head because I know better. I’m not even close to my parents’ brainpower. I can honestly say I’ve encountered some really smart people, and I ain’t one of them!
As you might imagine, Dr. Dave and my mother attracted some mighty interesting and unusual friends, and the house of my youth was always filled with musicians, singers, artists, painters, writers, poets, orators, photographers, spelunkers, world-class mountain climbers, scuba divers, environmentalists, engineers, surveyors, seekers of lost treasures, explorers and a huge variety of scientists, thinkers and intellectuals from many different disciplines — all of whom shaped and positively influenced the lives of their children. Such a household might seem unusual to some, but it seems completely normal to the kids who grew up there.
Yep, the old man’s gone, and all his trials are finally over. But those of us who loved him and were so powerfully influenced by
the mind-blowing home environment he and my mother created will surely cherish our memories as we share in the celebration
and remembrance of Dr. Dave’s extraordinary life.