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David McCullough

David McCullough

I met David when I was eleven, a tenderfoot scout in Troop 54 in Washington. David was in the Bun Rab patrol, maybe even its patrol leader, and I was in the Sabertooth Tiger patrol, which was led by George Beardsley. (Win painted a masterful sabertooth, snarling and dark, for us to use as a flag.) The troop met at the baptist church a block from Chevy Chase circle, and its leaders were Dick Ellinger and Donald Jackson. In case you wanted all the details.

But, as for David: I remember the very moment of discovering we were simpatico. It was in a car coming back from downtown, where we must have all been enlisted to collate and staple newsletters or publicity for some worthy cause. I can't remember what the worthy cause was, but it was such a joy to find someone with the same quick wit, the same quirky sense of humor.

David at eleven or so

      Any early photos I have of David are back in my bedroom in Iowa City, unavailable to be scanned and left as roadkill on the Information Superhighway. I got this one when David sent me a few pages Dick Ellinger had sent him about a Troop 54 reunion in August 1996.
      "Buddy McFarlane, Sam Brown, and Jack Mahoney got together and organized a reunion day to recognize the influence Dick Ellinger had over us and to thank him," David wrote me. "Dick was inspired by the event sufficiently to produce a newsletter."
      Included in the newletter were several grainy halftone photos, including the one of David at the top of this page -- allegedly taken at a Camporee at Catholic University on September 1, 1950. David would have been a month shy of eleven, so could not officially have been a boy scout at that time, but maybe he was there with his older brother, Max.
      That ragged area down the middle of the photo is from David's folding this bunch of stuff up to fit it into an envelope.

I could write volumes about David, or at least a volume -- but I'll restrain myself. I knew him first in Troop 54 and next in the youth group, "Firesides," that the two of us passed through, not quite fitting (atheists among the presbyterians), in high school. And later knew him through the letters we exchanged while I slacked my way through college -- David seeming to grab hold of life in Boulder, in Switzerland, and in Berkeley while I remained stagnant in DC.

      This unfinished sketch of David was, I think, the first oil painting I ever attempted. I didn't do it from life but from a photo I took in his parents' back yard on August 1, 1962, when I went around to his place for dinner.
      David's sister Diana was there too, along with her husband-to-be, Jim Metzger. There was also an attractive chestnut-haired girl named Frances.
      When Frances left later in the evening, David turned to me. "In case you were wondering who she was, she's a former girlfriend of my brother's."
      "You didn't have to say former so loud," Diana said. "Even if it's true."
      David and his family came from Texas and had a calm, easy friendliness I've always envied and admired. I loved to hear his parents talking and was amused by their interactions at dinner that day.
     "There's some bread there if you want it, Daddy," his mother told his father. "I forgot about it." Daddy,
      "Yes, that sounds right good." Right good.
      "Well, there's some there if you want it."
      "I do want it."
      David chuckled softly. I was amazed at the softness, the gentleness, the civility of this family. Both David and I were both young and godlike then and knew we would never fall into any of the traps or succumb to any of the weaknesses -- whatever they were -- that our parents had.

David in 1962.

Maureen and I saw a little of David when we finally made it out to Berkeley ourselves, and somewhere I have a photo of his dog giving suck to his kittens. He was always brilliant, literate, and artistic -- all things, in fact, seemed to come easily to him. But when Maureen and I had moved down to LA, he went off to Detroit to work on an auto assembly line.

The idea, I thought, was for him to be a union organizer. But I may have gotten that all wrong. Maybe he was just in it for the money. There aren't a whole lot of jobs in the world for philosophy students -- but the auto manufacturers would take anyone. He wrote me once telling me that I could visualize his job by imagining myself picking up my typewriter and carrying it over and dropping it on my bed. If I were to do that several times an hour, eight hours a day, five days a week, I would have the essence of his job.

Me with David and Irene's cat.

      I stopped by to visit David and Irene after dropping Joel off in Ann Arbor in 1992. The next morning David took this photo of me cuddling their cat while I drank my tea.
      A few years earlier David had written me (in talking of a story of mine) "We keep cats here and laugh at dogs." Years earlier, in Berkeley, he'd had both: a mama bitch and suckling kittens.

David was still living in the Detroit area when Joel was studying at Ann Arbor, so after dropping Joel off at his dorm in September 1992 I continued on to Ferndale to see David and his second wife, Irene, whom I hadn't met before. He was emphysematous, David told me, from years of smoking. The auto business was history. He'd gone through library school and now was working at a couple of part-time library jobs on opposite ends of town.

David talked late into the night and my eyes drooped pitifully as I tried to stay awake enough to fashion monosyllabic answers. Around three in the morning I climbed up the stairs to spend the night in the room of their son Ian, who was off at school.

      David and Irene are members of a balalaika orchestra, and I'd assumed that this photo, which he sent me in Winchester in December 1996 -- after he and Irene had moved to Atlanta -- showed him dressed for strumming. But now that I look more closely, I suppose it's from some costume ball.

David as a gypsy

When we were in college we kept up an intensive correspondence. I would write him long and torturous letters describing the state of my soul, or whatever it was that was making all that blackness and longing inside me, and he would write me back with considerably more intelligence, wit, and style than I have ever possessed.

But in the letter that came with the photo of him as a gypsy, he wrote this:: Funny -- the longer I live the less I have to say. I used to think I'd condense it all to pass on to my son Ian. But there's nothing to condense -- not even a quip for the tombstone.

The letter he wrote when he sent the photo of me with the cat was even more pithy:


Howdy, David.

[Nota bene: This page, like all the others in this site, is in progress. The text is mostly irrelevant and hastily written stuff designed just to fill the gaps between the photos -- and the photos themselves are not the best, but simply what I happen to have on hand. Please let me know if you find anything false, misleading, offensive, or intrusive to your privacy. It's hard to maintain privacy on the internet! Let me know too if there's a photo or something in the text that should be removed or something that should be added. I have not set up this site primarily for my own sake but for my family and friends -- and I welcome all corrections, additions, and suggestions about how to improve it!]

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Copyright 1999 T. N. R. Rogers. All rights reserved. Last revised 3 jun 99.