My cousin, David and I were born the same year. He died in 1983 while working on his doctorate in music at North Texas State University. He was an amazing classical guitarist. He was a brilliant and gentle young man. It was heartbreaking to his parents, my Aunt Lucille, and Uncle Reese, sister Carol, and our whole family. I learned a lot about how to deal with a loss by watching them. Uncle Reese wrote a book about David that was a great tribute to him and comforting to friends and family.
For several years, David baked whole wheat bread. He shared his recipe with me, but I don’t remember if I ever used it. After his death, I began to bake his recipe each Christmas. This baking of bread became one of my annual traditions and a time for me to think about David and what his life meant to our family.
Not long after David’s death, fellow musicians held a tribute concert in his memory. Proceeds went to a memorial concert fund at Stephen F. Austin University where David got his college degree and where Uncle Reese worked as an art professor. Our family drove down to Nacogdoches for the concert held at a local coffee shop. It was a wonderful event.
Both Uncle Reese and Aunt Lucille died several years ago, but David’s death was a constant shadow of sadness in their lives. The memories of our loss of David still sting today. I sometimes wonder how David’s talent would have influenced the world if he had lived longer.
A couple of summers ago, I took Becca to Santa Fe. We stayed at the Saint Francis Hotel. We weren’t roughing it but we had access to some beautiful hiking trails. I would rise early and hike, and then return for some afternoon touring with Becca and a good meal. We called it food tourism, and it was great fun!
While taking a break on a day hike up to Santa Fe Baldy, two ladies approached up the trail and asked if I was alright. Maybe I looked tired from the elevation but I replied, “It’s 60-degrees with no humidity, so this guy from Arkansas feels great! It’s in the upper 90s back home.”
One of the ladies said she knew about high humidity, having lived in East Texas for several years. I said I used to have family in that area. She asked where, and I said Nacogdoches to which she replied, “That’s where I lived.” I mentioned Reese and Lucille’s name and she said she knew them well. Turns out that she owned the coffee shop where the memorial concert for David was held, and she remembered it well. We shared memories of Reese, Lucille, David, and Carol. She also recommend a couple of other day hikes to me while I was in the area. The lady with her just stood there stunned at what she was hearing. I only saw two hikers on the ascent up to Santa Fe Baldy that day.
At the end of the day while preparing to drive away from the trailhead, the two ladies came off of the trail. The one who had lived in Nacogdoches came running up with a trail guide she thought I might like to have, saying it was an older edition but had some good hikes around the area. I thanked her and gave her an Ozark Highlands Trail Association water bottle.
As I drove away, I was thankful for this chance meeting on the trail and the kind words I heard about David from this “stranger.” I was reminded that there are no real strangers on the trail, where we often have connections with others just waiting to be discovered.
This evening Becca and I tasted David’s bread, and it was good. I read an excerpt from his father’s book and pulled out the old hiking guide to view the trail to Santa Fe Baldy. I thought about David’s far reaching influence and how memories of him and his parents live on in others.