I received news today that my brother Greg’s childhood friend, David, passed away from an infection, following a long illness. The news saddens me deeply, as he was the only child of my dad’s lifelong friend, Bill—and David was much too young to die.
I had not seen David in 30 years, but in the wake of his passing, a handful of David-and-Greg memories from our country childhood came flooding to my mind, tempering my sorrow with laughter, unapologetic. Even in times of death—especially in times of death—the bright memories soothe our souls.
I introduce you to my brother and his friend, David Fetterolf:
Snapshot #1: The Shoot-Out. David and Greg, age 13 or so, decided one day to take their air rifles down to the barn to shoot pigeons or maybe some mice. Think glorified BB gun with small lead pellets: non-lethal, but not without risk. But instead of targeting birds or rodents, they ended up playing “Shoot-out at the OK Corral”—with each other!
For context, please understand that these boys are the sons of two of the nation’s leading high-power rifle marksmen and gun-safety advocates. In our homes, gun-safety Rule Number One—“Never point a gun toward someone”—was so deeply ingrained in our psyches that to this day, I reflexively cringe if I see someone pointing a Nerf gun.
But on this day, unbeknownst to our parents, the boys hid behind hay bales and aimed their air rifles toward each other—on purpose!
Greg won—if you can call it that—and the two boys soon came rushing up from the barn and into the kitchen, startling my mom. David held one hand over his (only good) eye, blood spurting from between his fingers.
“I shot David!” my ashen-faced brother confessed.
“He shot David’s eye out!” my mom thought, horrified.
The bullet hit David’s forehead and scooted about 3” north. Two x-rays and an incision later, the doctor retrieved the pellet, smashed thin as paper against David’s skull. No permanent damage.
But still. Seriously?
I cannot remember how long the boys were grounded and their guns taken away. (I bet Greg remembers!) We place this story near the top of our "tell it again" list in the catalog of family lore.
Snapshot #2: The Round-Up. Two years later, Dad entrusted David and Greg, 15, with the keys to his GMC pick-up for the purpose of practicing their driving skills on the safety of the dirt lane that snaked its way through our pastures.
All was going well, or so my parents thought, until they noticed our herd of Hereford-mix cattle tearing across the pasture at a dead run, Dad's truck close at their heels. My brother and David decided to play round-up with the GMC as their horse—Greg behind the wheel and David riding shotgun. Every bump in the field sent them flying in the cab, but still they sped on.
I’ll never forget the sight of my 5’3” mom, spitting mad, chasing that truck around that pasture, hollering, “Stop! You boys stop that truck right now!”
They were too smart for that. They knew a tongue-lashing or worse awaited, so they might as well enjoy the ride while it lasted.
The people-pleaser in me admired their non-compliance that day. Never would I have had the courage to disobey so boldly.
The memory of those pubescent boys bouncing high in the cab of that truck at the crest of every mole hill, cows scurrying before them and my mom in hot pursuit behind, brings joy to my mind—and just a twinge of jealousy.
Snapshot #3: The Snowballs. David and Greg, both 17, engaged in an epic snowball fight one day in our front yard, following a rare Issaquah snowstorm. My mom captured it on video: two awkward teenage boys packing snowballs and lobbing them at one another, laughing and teasing and covered in snow.
Watching the video years later, the sheer normalcy of that day takes my breath away and signifies the very thing I loved about David from our childhood: He offered my brother genuine friendship.
Greg, who spent his school days in Special Ed and whose wobbly gait and twisted left hand made him an easy target on the bus, found in David a friend who treated him as an equal. They did normal things that country boys do—get in trouble with pellet guns and chase cows and throw snowballs. David befriended Greg on equal footing, and my kid brother treasured that friendship. As do I.
The boys drifted apart in adulthood, as happens sometimes—Greg taking a job staining desk legs at my dad’s furniture business, and David enlisting in the army as a paratrooper. Later this week David's dad will scatter his boy's ashes alongside Douglas Creek where the boys and dads once camped, fished, and caught crawdads for dinner. (“Like mini lobsters,” Greg recalls.)
And I will remember him as someone who loved my brother. David was Greg’s good friend.
At the end of my days, isn’t this how I, too, will measure my life? Did I love others well? Did I reflect the love of God? What kind of friend was I?
Well done, David.