Dack Daniels chose his 19th birthday as the day he'd move to Denton and begin a life with the father he hadn't seen in years. Six months later, just after my own 19th birthday, I became a permanent resident of that sleepy, north Texas town. Dack's father was a long-time acquaintance of my new husband's family and Dack and my husband worked together at the concrete factory. It's not so surprising that two city-slickers the same age became friends.
Three years into the 60s I alternated between feeling safe and agonizingly frustrated in my life as a local in a liberal two-college town. I felt safe when I watched in amazement from behind my bedroom curtains one afternoon as a college student my age stood in the sun between our houses for more than an hour, transfixed by a shiny, silver dog chain she held in front of her eyes. Would that be me if I hadn't married? Then my redneck neighbors (and now relatives!) would appall me by being for the war because it existed and against bi-racial couples for the same reason. I fantasized about carrying my toddler and a suitcase to the bus station and heading for Selma. There was no doubt I'd be on a march somewhere if I hadn't married.
Dack's father was known by his last name only, Daniels. It's strange our paths never crossed but I'm ready to swear I heard his name once from every person I did meet in Denton. It usually brought a soft chuckle that slowly dissolved into a downward gaze from a slowly shaking head. It was no secret Daniels was a drunk or that most people liked him in spite of it.
Nevertheless, within a few years Dack rejected his father. He refused to discuss it, even with me, and made a big deal if anyone mentioned his father's name in his presence. I often suspected that was why the name came up so often but was never sure whether people were intensely loyal to Daniels or just relished getting Dack's goat.
I met his Houston family once. I loved the older sister, a quick-witted, bawdy, horridly bleached blonde married to a typewriter salesman who later became wealthy from a ribbon patent. The rest Roseanne and Dan Connor would shun. Dack eventually refused contact with them, too.
I came of age in the late 50s, the tail end of the generation before the ever-questioning baby boomers. I was bred to airily ignore the obvious if it didn't fit the simple pictures fixed in my head. (I can hear friends snorting, "used to ignore!") This means I just assumed Dack's family had marked him as little as growing up in my family had marked me. It allowed me to accept without any wondering that he'd written off his entire family. I suspected and think he knew all we really had in common was our age, growing up in Houston and sharing in or discussing every benchmark of our early 20s and the 1960s but what the hell, time was on our side.
One hot summer night, a week before yet another birthday, I couldn't ignore that Dack and I laughed at the same things during the Ed Sullivan Show while my husband laughed at others. Sitting on that noisy, green-and-gold flowered naugahyde couch, I knew repapering the kitchen was futile. Icy, swirling winds were all that kept me from falling off a far-off mountain where I sat alone. By 3:00 p.m. the next afternoon I had met with a lawyer and moved into a garage apartment.
Dack visited Houston twice during the next twenty years. Neither minded we lived wildly different lives and had less in common each visit; we just enjoyed rehashing mutual memories. And we still laughed at the same things. One of my favorite memories is laughing so hard over dinner at a Westbury Square restaurant that other tables began applauding.
Three years ago he began calling a couple of times a year, early on Sunday mornings. The calls were sporadic enough to be just what they were and we discovered mutual passions for early mornings, strong coffee, and homemade bread. We both owned our own businesses and were the only people either knew who bought groceries at daybreak on Sundays.
I shared a few Cayman stories and he described his annual Costa Rican pilgrimages. For two months every year he trekked from town to town, criss-crossing the mountains and becoming fluent in Spanish. All of that appealed to me. I also liked reconnecting with someone who knew me well in my young mother years. I agreed to join him in the Fall.
Immediately I began watching Spanish newscasts and the nightly novellas, straining to follow conversations and pick up idioms. Ron loaned me a hand-held Berlitz computer for vocabulary. All thoughts while driving had to be in Spanish. I mentally counted change in Spanish to memorize the ever-longer numbers above diez.
Travel software provided more information about Costa Rica: imports/exports, government (one president, two vice-presidents, and no army since 1949), literacy rates (extremely high), food (what? no tortillas?), money, even birth control usage (by 80% of the females over 18). I couldn't wait to go.
Until I began worrying. We'd never been alone for more than two days. I almost cancelled when he made a remark I thought suggestive. I should have cancelled after I reported voting was compulsory at age 18 in Costa Rica. He told me I was mistaken.
"No it's not. More than 90% of the people vote in every election."
"No it's not. They travel miles to vote."
Dack didn't have a clue, even from context, what compulsory might mean.