A Sudden Death
June 29th, 2011 | Blog, David Bates | 6 Comments
My cousin David Bates was killed yesterday, June 28, 2011.
When I opened my emails this morning there was one from his email address, only the subject said, “Paulette, this is Brenda…” I didn’t even pause to think about that, but when I opened it she apologized for telling me in an email.
“There has been a terrible accident and David is gone.”
The words so flat. Yet containing so much.
It was after midnight there in Glenville, North Carolina when she was emailing to tell me. I could feel her shock and bewilderment. All she knew to do was make a list and start going down it.
They had had a tree guy there to take down some trees. They live deep in the woods way up on a mountain near Glenville, North Carolina, not too far from Cashiers. I had visited many times, I knew the house and property well. In March he and Brenda had driven over to see me when I was at a writers’ residency at Hambidge, in Rabun Gap, Georgia, and I had just called David on his birthday, June 19. He had turned sixty-five years old.
Brenda said the tree guy started taking the trees down about 8:00 that night, while there was still light. She was watching TV., she heard the first two go down, and then when she looked out the window she saw that the third had fallen towards the house, not into the woods as the other two had. She swore she saw David picking up sticks near the leafy top of the tree, but then the tree man came running in, saying call 911, David’s under the tree and he’s not breathing.
She thought he was joking. She went out with the phone, dialing 911. She saw David only it didn’t look like him. She thought it was a mistake. “He was gray, broken, looking somewhere else, and not there.”
It comes to all of us, doesn’t it. Grief, loss, the death of a loved one. Yet when it happens suddenly, it is like a tree falling on us, crushing us with its weight.
David loved trees. That is probably the first thing I’d think to say about him. Trees, and those mountains where they lived. It was remote up there, though they had distant neighbors. But they didn’t see another light at night, and that’s what they wanted. David had been a city manager for maybe thirty years, and he hated it, and when he got to the point where he could retire, they moved way up into the woods in the mountains. For several years he worked part-time for an environmental agency and then volunteered for Friends of Panthertown, a non-profit group working to preserve and maintain the wilderness area known as Panthertown Valley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-JsvD3A-Ts). When I talked to him on his birthday, he said he was about to meet with some high-end donors but he’d rather be out in Panthertown, clearing limbs and trees from the hiking trails.
We grew up close in Greenville. He was an only child, a boy with an overprotective mother who was odd in the way of the Mayfields, his maternal people. They were all a bit odd, the Mayfields. David and I used to laugh at the story of his uncle who would jump the ditch and hide in the woods rather than encounter another person walking down the road. They were upcountry folk, country people, distrustful and clannish. His mother didn’t make it easy for him to be a normal kid, a regular boy, and I always felt a little protective of him because of it. But I loved his mother, Aunt Alma, a big woman who couldn’t help that her love was too strong. I felt the recipient of some of that love when she’d hug me to her large breasts.
I loved his father too, Uncle H.C., my father’s brother. He was quietest of the brothers, maybe because of Alma, always in the foreground with my uncle H.C. muted in the background. My father and his two brothers were close. They were all gentle, well-mannered, convivial men, all gone now. We all saw a lot of each other, at our cabin at Table Rock or in town. At the cabin my sister, David and I mined mica one time, digging a huge hole in the red dirt road that led to another cabin. Somehow David hit my sister in the head with the hoe we were using. Or was it that Betty hit David? It’s all foggy now. Maybe Betty will remember. There are things I want to ask David, memories to review with him, stories that need reviving through re-telling. Why did time run out?
I’m so glad I saw him and Brenda at the end of March at Hambidge! I wrote in my journal while waiting for them to arrive: “I’m grateful for David and Brenda and that they’re coming over for a visit.” They drove the two hours over the mountains from Glenville and we had Sunday lunch at the Cupboard Kitchen; we all ate fried chicken. Then I showed them all around Hambidge–the other artists’ studios, the main house where we had dinner, Mary Hambidge’s house. It was a pleasant, enjoyable afternoon in that beautiful setting. I gave them some cuttings of a plant growing near my cabin, green leaves speckled with yellow. His mother had had the same plant. None of us could think of the name, but we knew that bush. Off they went with the starter stems wrapped in wet paper towel. The last time I would see him.
I always knew my cousin loved me. I’m sure he felt the same from me. It was an uncomplicated, straight-forward, simple, sweet love that nourished us both. It went back to our beginnings and continued unbroken through the years. Most of us only get a handful of that kind of life-time love. We sometimes said “love you,” but we didn’t need to say it. Whenever we parted we’d hold each other’s eyes for a moment. We held that moment of connection, both understanding what couldn’t be put into words.
I used to teach a writing workshop on Writing Healing Narratives. I believe in writing as a way to both hold onto what we have lost and also let go. Thus I begin.
There’s a Buddhist teaching story in which a woman whose baby has died comes to the Buddha to ask that her child be restored to life. The Buddha sends her to fetch a mustard seed from a house where no one has died…
She learns what the Buddha intended: “Today thou know’st the whole wide world weeps with thy woe: the grief which all hearts share grows less for one.”
Friends, family, fellow-writers and readers of this blog, I write to tell you of my loss. I know that you have had your own.
He was such a good guy!