Ranger Rick

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I’ve had the privilege of living in a wide variety of countries and societies. And having not always been entirely sane myself, one way that I judge societies is by how they handle their crazy folks. “Back in the day”, as they say, I lived in a town called Olema, and I was loosely associated with a group of people called the “Diggers“. The Diggers had a communal ranch up the hill from my place, Peter Coyote lived up there. It was a lovely secluded old place, with a constantly changing cast of outrageous characters living and passing through the ranch. Among them was one of the crazy folks, I’ll call him Billy because that wasn’t his name.

Like many crazy people, he cycled into and out of his illness. When he started acting up, people would talk to him about it. When it got bad, he’d retreat to his one-room shack behind the main house where he lived. He’d go into his shack for a while, and wouldn’t come out. People fed him, when the dinner meal was cooked and everyone sat down to eat together, someone would take him a plate, and he’d open the old wood-panel door to the shack, but hardly talk, take the plate and close the door. And when he got really mental, he’d pull the bottom panel out of the door, and people would just put the plate in through the open panel, and take out the dirty dishes. After while, he’d hit bottom, and the first sign of him coming back was he’d put the bottom panel back in the door, and open the door for his food. Then after a while he’d start to talk to people, a bit at first, and finally, maybe a month after he’d first shut himself up, he’d come back out and join the group for dinner and the like. He’d talk to people about where he had gone, it didn’t make much sense, but people listened and tried to explain things as best they could. No one thought of him as special, he was just crazy Billy.

That was one of the most compassionate acts by a group of people that I had seen, and the memory of it has stuck with me.

I was reminded of the Diggers, and of Crazy Billy, by the recent death of a man whom everyone around here called “Ranger Rick”.

Ranger Rick Kaufman, 1949-2012 SOURCE

I live near a little town in the redwood-covered hills called Occidental. It’s not a city, it has no city government, it’s known for its Italian restaurants and not much else. There’s maybe a dozen or so businesses. And somehow, over the last quarter century or so, Ranger Rick became the unofficial mayor of Occidental. Or maybe the town greeter. Or perhaps just the street sweeper. He didn’t do much, he didn’t have any official job, and he drank too much, but he was the spirit of the town.

Ranger Rick was nobody’s fool … but he looked at the world from some very different place than you and I. He could be kind and gentle one minute and raging angry the next, but he never hurt a fly. He watched over the town like some benign and slightly demented elf.

A local guy let Rick sleep in an old cabin on his land. Some of the town merchants kicked in a few bucks a month for a stipend. People who had restaurants gave him the odd meal. He walked from his cabin to town every morning. If you drove through town too fast, he’d shout at you. Sometimes he was not entirely coherent. He pruned the town trees. But mostly, he just wandered the town, back and forth, side to side, helping people who looked lost, keeping an eye on the kids getting on and off the school bus, talking to the tourists. He was the public face of the town, the common thread over the years, the often-inebriated town greeter, both cranky and kind, sweeping the streets and muttering to himself.

And finally, sadly, I suppose inevitably, the alcohol caught up with Ranger Rick last week, and he died peacefully in his sleep.

Yes, you’re right, this has nothing to do with climate, check the masthead, sometimes this site is commentary on life. I bring this up because far too often we are reminded of man’s inhumanity to man. I bring it up because I want to commend and celebrate the spirit of the people of the town of Occidental. Any place else, Ranger Rick might just have been despised as the town drunk, but the people of Occidental made room in their town for a strange, lonely, eccentric and somewhat demented man to have a full and meaningful life. And to me, that’s an important measure of any society, what we do with our crazy folks.

My best wishes to all, hug your loves and your folks and your kids, life is far too short, remember Phlebas …

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell

And the profit and loss.

                         A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

                           Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.



I thought long and hard about whether I should publish this one, and as part of that, I recalled my childhood where my father helped out a guy like this from time to time.

I also recalled something said in the journalism business, about how every person gets their name in the newspaper; when they are born, and when they die. Since Occidental apparently doesn’t have a town newspaper, I decided to let WUWT serve that purpose.

– Anthony

My thanks to you for your choice, Anthony. Indeed there is no newspaper in Occidental. A memorial service for Ranger Rick will be held at 11 a.m. on March 3 at St. Philip Church in Occidental.



I went today to the town of Occidental for Ranger Rick’s memorial service. The yellow daffodils were blooming all over town. Rick’s mother and his two grown daughters were there. I think they were surprised at how well-loved he was … and at the host of strange folk, young and old, who were his friends.

Occidental is a time-warp kind of place, located in a hidden landscape of the mind rather than a geographical location, full of vestigial hippies and other refugees from the 1960s. It’s not even a town. People came from miles around to honor Rick, and to tell stories of how he had touched their lives. A little girl, maybe five years old, stood up at the microphone and said “I liked Ranger Rick. He was my friend. One day he stopped us from having a food fight, and gave us bouncy balls instead.” From the mouths of babes … kids were always his favorites.

Occidental for a while had a couple of resident chickens, a rooster and a hen. They just wandered around town, kind of the town pets. A local merchant told his tale of the Ranger. “When I came to town to open my pub, Rick started coming around. I asked some of the other merchants who he was. They said ‘He’s the Mayor of Occidental’. ‘Mayor?’ I said. ‘Occidental’s not even a town, it’s just a ‘census designated place’, it doesn’t have a Mayor.’ ‘Rick’s the Mayor anyhow’, I was told. So when I saw Rick again I said ‘So I’m told you’re the Mayor of Occidental.’ ‘No, I’m not,’ Ranger said. ‘The Mayor of Occidental is the rooster.’ He was perfectly serious.”

Another man who was living in another town told of taking a job in Occidental. At his first lunch break he went to a local store to get some food. “I was standing at the counter when I heard the door open. A man who was mostly beard stuck his head in and said ‘Hey … come with me.’ I looked around, no one else was there, he must have been talking to me. I didn’t know what to do, so I turned away, and I heard the door close. In a few minutes it opened again, and the strange man was there again. ‘Hey … come with me.’ I truly didn’t know what was happening. I paid for my food. When I went outside, he was there and said “Come with me!”. He disappeared around the corner of the building. I didn’t know the town, I didn’t know him … people had warned me about Occidental, and now four hours in town and I was already going down the rabbit hole. I peered around the corner. He was just going around the next corner. I followed him out to the edge of town where he had stopped under a tree. ‘It’s here’, he said. ‘What’s here?’ I said. ‘I mean right here on this spot’ he said. What is it that’s here?’ I asked. ‘It’s the Yum-Yum tree’, he said, and pointed upwards. I looked up and to my amazement, the tree was full of ripe pomelos. Rick started pulling them off and piling them in my arms. He loaded up as well, and we went through a back trail to the main road. ‘Great’, I thought, ‘I just got to town and I’m already a criminal with a demented accessory’. When we got to the road Rick said excitedly, ‘It’s up there!’ and pointed up the road. ‘What’s up there?’ I asked, mystified. ‘It’s big, it erupts out of the ground’, he said. ‘That’s a fire hydrant’ I objected. ‘Exactly’, he said, ‘let’s get it,’ and he started bowling pomelos, uphill, at the fire hydrant. I had no choice at that point—there was nothing left to do but embrace the suck, so I joined in the bowling. I ended up good friends with Rick, and I have to add there’s one thing he did for me that nobody had ever done. He really improved my pomelo bowling …”

Yeah, that’s Occidental, all right, spend half a day there and you end up pomelo bowling with a genial madman … the next guy got up. “I went over in the morning after Rick died. I took his stash because I didn’t want the police to find it, and I put it in a safe place. So after I finish talking here, I’m going across the street and anyone who wants can help me use up Rick’s stash in his honor …” He drifted off. I saw him later across the street with a half-dozen folks. As sometimes happens in Occidental, the weather in their immediate vicinity had gotten kind of hazy, I think it might be something to do with naturally generated aerosols or something. They were laughing, talking about the Ranger, honoring their fallen friend in their own manner.

So the stories flowed, one hour, two hours, people talking, people weeping, stories from the kids and the dads and the moms. One woman said she’d let Rick sleep on her couch sometimes. She said he never asked for much, but occasionally she’d give him clean socks when he asked for them. Another man stood up and said “I thought I was the only one giving him clean socks”. So did another man … socks, go figure. Occidental is a town where the people give a lost man clean socks … and it is a town where that’s pretty much all he asked for, people gave him the rest without his asking, because in his madness he worked hard every day at keeping the town sane.

Lots of folks were wearing Ranger Rick t-shirts today, with no words on them, just his face in black and white with his piercing blue eyes. And there was a sign up on a table that said “Everything I need to know I learned from Ranger Rick”, with his photo, and a place for people to write their wishes … and there were pages and pages of wishes for Rick.

It’s that kind of town. The daffodils were blooming today in Occidental. Rick planted most of them. He cared for the flowers and talked with them and gave them water. We cared for him and talked with him and gave him clean socks. Sometimes, life is not all that complex.


 …  [2013] collected for Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …


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Willis and Anthony,
This is one of the best things I’ve read on WUWT.
Ranger Rick and the town of Occidental will not be forgotten. This is how people treat people.
RIP Rick.


Thank you Anthony for your decision to put this in. My already high esteem for both you and Willis has increased another notch. And I am that much better for having read it.

Ed Moran

Thanks to you both.



William McClenney

Welcome back Willis.


Thanks for this post, w.


Thanks. I think it does a lot of good to read stories of kindness now and again. A gentle reminder of our higher selves.

Ken in Beaverton, OR

Thanks Anthony,
Every human deserves dignity. You have acknowledged Ranger Rick for that.


I am sure many of us here have family or friends who have suffered through similar difficulties. Depression, Alzheimer’s, bi-polar disorder, substance abuse, etc. are, sadly, common and confusing. Often the easiest way to deal with it is to simply turn around and walk away – ignore them. I like to think of myself as reasonably stable, if somewhat dull. 😉 But I hate to think that if that stability were to slip, there would be no one to lead me a hand. Kudos to the good folks of Occidental and Olema. 🙂

Everyone should know at least one ‘Ranger Rick’ during their life. Mine was named George Dickinson, the mayor of Wholand. As much a place in the mind as it was a physical location it was situated on the banks of the Housatonic River in Oxford, Connecticut. People like this are in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Too weird to live and too rare to die.” If interested you can still, I believe, google George, Wholand and the characters he attracted to place you ‘can’t get to from here’.

Jenn Oates

Very nice, Willis, and Anthony.

Marj the Truck Driver



Thank you for that.

Michael J. Bentley

Inhumanity starts when we think we are better than another, any other. To accept each other as unique and special allows all of us to be humane and gentle with one another. This “Human Interest” piece points that out with simplicity and grace.
Kudos to both Willis and Anthony

Jim Barker


Will Hudson

I have rarely read anything from Willis that did not both mezmorize me and make me think more deeply about life and all it brings. Many thanks, Willis.
And many thanks, Anthony, for publishing this piece. Outstanding.

Thank you Willis and Anthony for this touching story, the point of how do we treat our crazy ones is well taken.
How indeed do we treat those that soothsay co2 doomsday as if it’s magically happening, they have put their passion ahead of the observable facts from the objective reality of Nature, and some more than others have crossed the line beyond irrationality to other realms of dark visions of the future. How do we as a society deal with these people? They have been with us, likely, as far back as human memory and history resonates. It has been observed that throughout the ages that the “crazy ones” where listened to for their mytic insights. Now a days we know this to be the result of various mental illnesses or the use of mind altering and illuminating drugs the results of which are diverse and rich human mythologies our various cultures have.
Of course, dark mythologies of man sinning causing his own destruction isn’t the best way to set public policy to say the least, yet that is where we find ourselves as a species.
Maybe the modern notion of man’s enlightenment with science is more of a shared standard and direction to aim for than an accomplishment; much like the protection of liberty and freedom one must bring eternal viligence and dedication to highest starndards of inegrity and excellence in one’s commitment to the exacting and thus difficult process of the Scientific Method.
Humbled by Nature, an experience and value point of view that every human dedicated to the discovery of glimers of insights into the natural vibrant dynamics of our environment may provide a context for bringing people including those soothsaying doomsday around to our mutual shared common ground in the objective reality of Nature, with all her harsh wonderous beauty. Maybe compassion for those with aniled minds locked in particular views might enable bridges towards communicating and comprehension while respecting peoples commitment to their value systems and desire to protect our mutual home, Earth, the only known place in the known universe where we know we can exist in a natural environment.
Thanks again Willis. Ranger Rick will now be remembered – and touched – by far more people with your eloquent heartfelt words of wisdom.

spangled drongo

Willis and Anthony, thanks for that dose of reality. Those wonderful characters seem to be a part of more remote areas.

Chris B

There but for the grace of God go I….

Titan 28

A tale about human decency. Every now and then we need to hear things like this. You made the right decision. Thank you.

Thumbs-up, guys. That was quite moving.

I think every life should have a “Ranger Rick” in it.
The scary thing when I think about it is that most of them I knew back in the day when conventional wisdom said they should all be locked up (the third I knew because all those places had been closed, I think). One of the other two would in today’s twisted world would probably be jailed and cause to have them take me away from my parents.
One was an old lady (I don’t really know how old) we called Leah, I don;t know anything about here except here house was small for the lot it was on and sat way back from the street. And the lot was pretty much weed-grown, and what little you could see of the inside looks in my mind’s eye like that of a hoarder in today’s TV world.
I know that kids would taunt her and that she would come out onto her front porch dressed in a faded green house dress with her stockings rolled down below her knees and scream at us.
I also know that if my mother had the vaguest suspicion that my brother or I had been a part of the taunting, the wrath of God would be upon us. An I know that my mother sometimes visited Leah with a pot of something to eat. I don’t know how many times or how often, mmy mother was careful that not much notice was made.
On the adjoining property property was what had started out as a 1-room cabin that had expanded by an dining room and a screened-in porch turned into a kitchen, and to the rear, a screened-in porch that was his bedroom. The must have been a bathroom, but I don.t remember it–there is a possibility that it was the small shed at the bottom of the property, I don’t think I’ve ever been it. His house was close to the street, so there was a large (for a city) lot behind that stretched down to Leah’s property line. That and the vacant lot beside he planted to all sorts of flowers and truck crops. He must have told us stories, but all I remember inside his house was trying to extract some large number of years worth of sand from under the rug in the living room, and watching him light his pipe by rolling a piece of newsprint into a tight cone that he set afire in the little wood stove in the front room (or was it in the arch between front and dining rooms?) of by the pilot light of the old gas stove in the kitchen.
The third (and I’m sorry to say, last} was a pan handler I’d see often as I walked to the train station in the evening. He kept a running patter going, that often made no sense, He sat with a big loveable dog (might have been a Pitbull–that was long before I learned that I was supposed to hate them). I teased the dog about hanging around with the guy so long he was beginning to look like him,
The patter was usually cheerful and entertaining so I gave him money from time to time–seemed only fair. Then one day he disappeared.
A long time later, I had moved along, I happened to see him–asked about the dog, which he pointed to under a car in the shade. Asked him where he had been–he said he’d gotten sick, so he pissed on a cops shoes to get a bath, some clean clothes and a trip to the county hospital.


My Dad went through a spell like Ranger Rick’s. It lasted from age fifty to age seventy. Then he pulled out of it, and was really wonderful from age seventy to age eighty-two, when he passed away.
Alchohol didn’t help, though he thought it did. What really helped was a small town, and people who would tell me, when I cringed with embarrassment, “Oh, that’s just Doc.” They got enough out of his good moods to put up with his bad ones.
He had his reasons to be angry. Don’t we all. (The Global Warming fraud can get me nearly as bad as my Dad was.)
When he raged he was scarey. Spittle would spray onto your face, if you didn’t back off. However he never lashed out with anything other than words, that I know of. Even so, I never dared stand up to him and go jaw-to-jaw until I was thirty-five. The fact I went jaw-to-jaw, even though I got all covered with spittle, really seemed to help him, and to be part of what brought him out of it. Maybe it just showed I cared.
Putting up with a person going through troubles can be one of the hardest things you are ever asked to do, but, when they pull out of it, there are no words to express the gratitude you feel.
Gratitude? When someone has put you through hell for twenty years?
Yes, gratitude.
And especially gratitude for the small town that put up with him even when I couldn’t.


Test. My comment vanished, perhaps becall I used the word h—.
[Patience, my friend. It’s a moderated site, takes us a bit of time. All the best. -w.]

Willis Eschenbach

I forgot to mention that there will be a memorial service for Ranger Rick on March 3rd, St. Phillips Church in Occidental at 11:00 AM.

Mike Wryley

I also grew up in rural areas with nearby small town, seems we all had a “Mayor of Occidental”.
To me, the take away is the fact that when left to their own devices, people find ways to take care of each other without the intervention some state or federal bureaucracy. Things did not go well for Ranger Rick, but for some that is the price of free agency.


40 Shades of Green

I toured the redwood empire North of San Francisco, got lost and ended up in Occidental. Lovely town. Does not surprise me that you treated Rick as you did.
What does surprise me is that I got a real Hippy Marin County vibe off it. Not where I would have expected you to reside, Willis.
Then again, it is a bit ironic that Anthony hails form Chico.
Both hotbeds of liberal thought if I am not mistaken.
Having said that, a lovely tribute and hopefully the link will be passed around the community and some of the good citizens will come back.
40 Shades

David Falkner

A very good article, thanks Willis. May Rick rest in peace. What you do unto the least of these…

Jason H.

At this particular time, we really needed this story. It was sad, yet very refreshing at the same time. Thank you Willis and Anthony.


Thanks for posting this, a real gem. RIP Rick.
Spangled drongo – I think you are right. Long before I went on a mountain-biking trip with my brother to Moab, I read a good guidebook which mentioned an old guy who lived on the edge of the town, and was also a little bit ‘out there’. I think he came to the town in the 1950s when the uranium mines first opened. I forgot about this, and then after a few days in the town an old guy on a push bike [on which he seemed to carry most of his possessions and his two dogs], came out of the darkness, stopped and started talking to us. Long afterwards I remembered the book and it clicked who he must have been. There are some great trails around Moab, amazing geology and scenery, but meeting and talking with the old boy was a privilege. I hope he is still going strong today, but fear not.

We had a fellow like that in Excelsior, MN. “Mr. Jimmy”. Some sort of family tradgedy when he was an early teen. Some old aunt or the like took care of him, but (I think the tradgedy involved a fire which may have killed his folks/siblings??)
Anyway, somehow he had a house in Excelsior. He’d do “odd jobs”. He’d wander around the stores, public library, Lake Minnetonka shores during the summer, etc. People would give him food, clothing, talk with him. Had a fine tenor voice and would sing at public gatherings, Christmas, etc.
The allegation is that he ran into an aspiring rock muscian, Mick Jagger, while they were performing at the Excelsior Amusement Park back in the early ’60’s. He went into the drug store to get his free straberry soda water. They were out. He turned and said to the fellow behind him, “You can’t always get what you want!”. Note that the song says, “I met Mr. Jimmy at the (Chelse) Drug store, and he said…” (Just remember, the British call it a “Chemist”!)
But Willis, because of this, because of meeting and talking with Mr. Jimmy, I know what you feel and are thinking. I’m GLAD you’ve memorialized “Ranger Rick”.


Great tale well told, Willis – when you’re on nobody’s better. Reminds me very much of the Ranger Ricks that have come and gone in my own life. Hopefully most people have the opportunity to share the world with these free spirits and recognize it for the gift it can be.

Dr. Dave

I commend Willis for writing this piece. But it’s not just how we treat our “crazy folks” but also how we treat our “old folks.” Too many folks ship their elderly parents off to nursing homes or assisted living facilities because they don’t want to be “bothered” by them. It didn’t used to be this way. Just a couple of generations ago families took care of their own. Now, it appears, that’s the states responsibility. I don’t want to get too maudlin, but I’m reminded of this old John Prine song:

Thanks for the story Willis. A good reminder of the value in all, and that we’re all, without exception, drifting, floating, tumbling, slipping and sliding toward that event horizon and that when we encounter folks like Rick (עליו השלום / alav ha-shalom), we should remember the line, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

John Blake

Seem to recall, but cannot verify, that over some decades from the 1950s a “King of San Francisco” played this role.
In Manhattan, along Sixth Avenue above 57th Street we had Moondog, wearing a tinfoil Viking helmet with broomstick spear and battledress to match– a gravely dignified, quiet presence, but absolutely mad.
Are we not all Kings and Vikings? Lord bless us, every one.

Colin in BC

Thanks for posting, it literally brought a tear to my eye. I said a short prayer for Ranger Rick. RIP.

Emperor Norton died in the 1880s.
There was a greeter in Long Beach or someplace in southern California — I can picture him on a curb, but not where that curb is — in the 1950s.

Thomas W. McCord

There was once an Emperor of San Francisco! His name was Norton I.


Thank you for sharing this Willis. Through out life, we meet individuals, each and every one. To learn small and things about those individuals, and hence ourselves, is life’s great joy.
How we react to those who have had adversity, who live with adversity speaks volumes about ourselves. What we precieve to be adversity also speaks volumes about ourselves.
To treasure each and every individual, to learn from them, to enhance our lives from that learning so that we may be a benifit to humanity as a whole is what life is really all about.
For by our collective benifit efforts, we all benifit.


Occidental? I lived in Graton for awhile, spent 12 years in Sonoma county all together. I almost rented a place near Occidental. When I saw the title to this article, I thought it was a coincidence. Very sad news, may Ranger Rick rest in peace. OTH, it’s nice to hear about places in the world were people still have a heart. It gives me hope.


I wonder if you have heard of Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico. 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco when he died.

Roger Carr

A dewdrop in a desert — thank you, Willis (and Anthony for being perceptive in knowing what is in the public interest and the public soul to publish it).

Thanks Willis.
I live about 60 miles north of you on the coast in Gualala, and have off and on since 1949. I read Ranger Rick’s story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat a few days ago, and it reminded me of some of the eccentrics who used to live in nearby Point Arena and Manchester fifty years or more ago. Somehow they fit into our rural way of life, and some even held down jobs as ranch or farm hands. Now they would be institutionalized, but then we had room in our towns and lives for characters. I’m glad Occidental still does.

Great story; a good reminder that in the end we are all equal too … yesterday a good friend of a friend, Ken Lindbloom was lost, an individual I had also met and chatted up several times at dinners, and he even had a chance to work at an enterprise I was with a few years back, an individual who had a really bad run of luck better than 30 years that affected his health adversely the balance of his years on this earth … he was witness to a 1st auto accident and subsequently involved in a 2nd accident facilitated by the first, even though he had placed himself well enough away, but fate sometimes deals from the bottom of the deck.
“Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

Thanks for the memorial, Willis. It is worth noting that as ‘normal’ as some of us seem to be, we are all at bottom equally as puzzling as Ranger Rick. And all of us deserve a bit of remembering.

/Mr Lynn

We used to spend a lot of time in Southwest Harbor, Maine. They had, possibly still do, a character who seemed to drift around a lot and was often hitchhiking along the roads even as far as Ellsworth on the mainland. We gave him a few rides over the years, had many simple exchanges, and dropped him off wherever he wanted. Ten minutes later, we would see him hitching the other way!
We were worried about him and asked a few questions. It turns out that he had a private room in the town, was independently funded, and generally watched out for by the town. Way to be, Southwest Harbor!

Great story Sir: touching and well written.
I remember Eiler Larsen, a “town greeter” in Laguna Beach, California, who stood at the side of the road and waved to the cars as they pulled into town. When he finally fell ill, the town took up a collection to send him back to his home country Denmark, where he passed away.
There is now a statue of him at the side of the road where he used to stand. He is still waving.

Paul Hull aka McComberBoy

Thank you so much Willis. How many of us have a story to tell like Willis? Here is mine, a eulogy I wrote for my Uncle David, a man with whom I had never exchanged a word. But it was really for my father, a man who taught us over and over again the value of humans who have no apparent value. Willis and mods feel free to leave this out if it is too long winded.
“Uncle David was born February 25, 1927 in Tehema County and died August 28, 2007 in Riverside. He was 80 years old. He was preceded in death by Aunt Roberta, in 1919, Uncle Bill, in 1943, Uncle Bob in 1944 and Aunt Evelyn in 1991.
As Dad and I talked about this time of remembering, he mentioned a verse of scripture that he thought was appropriate from Ecclesiastes.
1 A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
Now you could look at those verses and say that King Solomon had a bad day with 20 or 30 of his wives and was worn out. Or we could just assume that he was just being jaded and cynical. But I think there is vast truth here that applies to Uncle David.
Life wasn’t easy, even from the beginning. How many of us would liked to be named Just. Because that was his name. Just David Hull.
I remember speculation in my youth that was even voiced about where that name came from. Some suggestions were humorous in nature, like the adding of Enough to Robert Lester Lee Hull. But it wasn’t always humorous.
I remember a time we went to visit David in the hospital at Napa, and the nurse was calling out for Just, Just, Just come get your pills. And I remember dad becoming angry that they didn’t care enough to know that he had always been called David. And I’m sure that many of us wondered whatever got into Grandma to name her son Just. It seemed mean, or cruel, or unfeeling. Like the Hogg family naming their daughters Ima and Ura…but maybe not.
Eleanor Porter wrote a book, published in 1916, called “Just David”. And it’s the story of a boy who struggled to fit in. A boy who went his own way. A boy who was gifted yet left on his own after his mother and father died. He was a boy, though, who through the training he had received and the God given talent that he had, was able to succeed in his life. And I have to believe that Grandma wanted those things for her boy.
But David wasn’t destined to achieve great things. He struggled, just to keep up, much less get ahead. He could be frustrating to an older brother or sister, because he would never walk alongside, or scurry to the front. He was always lagging behind and forcing you to turn around to see if he was still there, or if he had wandered off somewhere.
He struggled in his school work. In fact, for a time, because he was falling so far behind, he went to live with Aunt Alma and receive special tutoring while he attended, just up above the ranch, at the old Philips school house. He wasn’t one to be involved much with his older brothers he just kind of kept quiet. One of those kids who is so hard to reach.
And then, the world he did know began to fall apart. His oldest brothers were gone to college and then into the army…because World War II was underway. He was there when his older brother, home on leave, attacked his drunken father for striking their mother. He was there through the escalating family abuse and alcoholism that was tearing at the very structure of the family.
But things got worse. His closest, dearest brother had to leave too. The war was raging around the world and the two blue stars became three as dad went off to the Air Corps to join his brothers in the fight. And David was there when word came that his oldest brother was gone…never to return.
Dad came home on leave to grieve with the family over the loss and David, more withdrawn and harder to reach, was struggling with all that confronted him. And there, in that saddest of times, Dad was able to reach him for (as far as we know) the last time in his life. He went to David and said these simple words, “I love you, David.” And the tears poured down David’s cheeks as the message got through the times of sorrow and bitterness to a troubled, heartbroken young man.
Uncle David was not destined to spend a lifetime thrilling crowds with musical virtuosity. Not destined to dazzle the Nobel committee with his scientific genius. Not destined to win applause for heroism or self-sacrifice. He was destined to be Just David and spend more than sixty years in institutions until finally he was freed forever on August the twenty-eighth.
Dad, you said to me when we went to LA to see him for the last time, “This is end of a long sad journey”. And in one sense it was. And I think I understand why you were drawn to the words of Solomon when he said, the “day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth”. But I think you can be comforted with your many times of going to see someone who didn’t respond, who often times didn’t even know you and yet you went anyway. You were unashamed of a brother who was in a mental hospital and prone to violence. Taking us, showing us, that you loved him before and that you would not and could not stop loving him for his whole life. What honor and recognition you heaped on him, to your own praise, because he was your brother…and you loved him. And you were determined that he would always be your brother. Loved and cared for to the end by a brother who wouldn’t let him be, just David.”