It occurs to me, it was nearly 30 years from the day we met to the day David died.
My amicable divorce was final October 13, 1979, and I celebrated by sending out invitations to my “Coming Out Party” (a la the debutante being launched into dating society). In my cleverly worded poem, I said the occasion was Pot Luck and that guests should bring either something edible or someone eligible.
An actress friend was intrigued and asked if I had anyone in mind. I didn’t; but just wanted people to know I was available for socializing. Then I remembered someone I’d seen. Attending a dance performance at The Evergreen State College’s Experimental Theater, I had turned and looked across the audience. About eight rows behind me, I saw a face which absolutely arrested me. His features were deeply carved, his eyebrows intense. Even seated, he stood out - a bit above the crowd.
When I described this face to my friend, she said she thought it was David Powell, faculty at TESC. She told me where his office was, and when on campus to teach one of my dance classes for Leisure Education (a program formed, in part, around the nucleus of my Jazz Dance classes), I ventured into the building she had described and found a faculty office with an identifying photo of - the man I had seen! Excited, I told her she was right; it was indeed David Powell.
Next time I saw her, she gleefully confirmed she had invited him to come - in place of a tuna casserole - and he’d accepted.
The night of my gala party, she and he arrived on my doorstep, he in a white tennis sweater that set off his tanned skin and the whites of his eyes. So tall, he slightly stooped to come through the door. At some point, he and I talked in the kitchen, near the fridge, for it is imprinted on my mind when I think of my response to what he told me. His relationship with his mother was not a good one, vitriolic. And so I made the decision that he was not someone I’d want to be seriously involved with; for I believe that, ultimately, the way a man regards and treats his mother is the way he will eventually treat his wife or lover. Even if it is just an involuntary relapse. I shared this with him, either then or when we talked later. At the end of the party, when guests were about to leave, I asked if he’d like to stay and converse further, for I seldom have time to visit in depth, when I’m hosting a party. He was delighted to, and so was I, and we talked intensely ‘til the wee hours of morning. He returned to his home but phoned me from there, and we talked for hours more. And so it was, each day, interspersed with various get togethers.
We had a date for a dinner party with my parents and their friends, at the family home where I’d grown up: four stories overlooking 10 rolling acres on 500 feet of Henderson Inlet waterfront. I’d dressed with great care, and David looked very presentable and, I thought, quite handsome, in slacks and his Harris tweed jacket. I don’t recall his wearing an earring, but rather his only mentioning to me that he thought it would have caused a stir, and his laughing, perhaps derisively.
My father, small of stature but huge of intellect, wondered why I was attracted to this brute of a man, thinking he detected a cruel streak in David. I thought, perhaps that was part of the attraction, unconsciously reminding me of Dad’s own severity; for a girl’s first model of love is her father.
Saturday, morning we had another date, bicycling for miles, and David said his son (also named David) had observed that we were seeing too much of each other; saying something like we’d had “14 dates in the past 13 days!”
David did not want his sons to feel that he was shortchanging them, spending more time with me than with them, so we agreed to back off, which also felt less stressful to me.
The following week seemed long, without seeing each other each day, though I was perpetually busy as always. Finally, in preparation for that Friday night date with David, I found myself in a tizzy of school girl excitement and insecurity, looking forward to it, much too much. I’d forgotten how that felt, being only newly out of a marriage of 14 years, many of which we were spent deeply in love. I didn’t like the feeling and thought I should pull back.
David had said, with that laugh, that his idea of the perfect picture of romance would be a couple standing in a field together, facing, their arms around each other, in the midst of an idyllic pasture. But looking down, the viewer sees that the couple is standing in a large cow pie! (That sardonic laughter, again.)
Ultimately, I did experience the cow pie in our relationship - and chose to distance myself permanently, but I could not deny that I missed the intellectual stimulation that our conversations always brought. And I indulged in at least one more, months later, on the phone at home, as I lay in the sun, overlooking the bay, drinking something tall and cool and wishing to talk with someone tall and cool, who tilled the fertile soil of my mind.
Loving to write, I wanted to continue Self-Exploration Through Autobiography, the course I’d been taking at TESC. It was not being continued and so I settled for a summer course in fiction writing. I was not interested in writing fiction, but it was the closest thing TESC offered to what I wanted, documenting the rich adventures of my own life. A short course in Fiction Writing was taught by David Powell. I suppose he was surprised when I appeared among his students, though perhaps he had seen by the preregistration that I would be there.
Though, by summer’s end, I’d not finished what promised to be a novel, David’s critique, as I recall, was that my work was like romances one reads in a women’s magazine. I wouldn’t know, since I didn’t read fiction in women’s magazines, but presumably David did, so I can only take his word for it. What he didn’t know was that these were the facts of my life, and only the names were changed to make it appear to be fiction.
Over the years, I saw David a few times, at a distance, sorry to see him slowed by the pain of arthritis. A decade or two later, I attended a garage/yard sale (one of my delights) and, to my discomfort, it turned out to be David’s. I had a question about an item, and he spoke briefly, without apparent recognition, but expressing a bitterness about life that was sad to hear.
Reading his obituary in The Olympian, I went to the website, www.DavidLeePowell.com, and was so glad to read of the positive impact he’d had on students. Reading the entries brought back these memories. I’d thought I might share some at his Celebration of Life, November 7th, 2009, at Environmental Learning Center at Millersylvania State Park. Could I make it there (perhaps a half hour drive) for a 2PM Celebration of Life and back home for a 3PM babysitting date with three of my grandchildren to spend the night? It would be close, but it would be interesting to see what familiar faces there might be - and how many showed up for this “icon of Evergreen” whose time teaching there apparently paralleled my own, from 1973 to 2003 (though, on campus, our paths never crossed).
Instead of driving the 1995 Toyota Camry (which I’d been persuaded to buy for the possibility of transporting grandchildren), I decided to drive my 1980 Nissan 280 ZX, to give a charge to the battery - and perhaps to others who enjoyed the sight of it (a car manufactured nearly three decades before, about the year David and I met).
I started driving a few minutes later than intended and was deluged by more rain than the defroster and windshield wipers could handle. I didn’t trust my memory to turn at the intersection where I’d seen signs “to Millersylvania State Park” in the past, but none existed now. I pulled a U-turn and prevailed upon an attendant at an Espresso stand to direct me. The faster and farther I went, the more threatening the downpour, seemingly telling me I should not be doing this. I finally stopped again, at a country market, and got more directions. I’d gone past the turn. As I turned the Z to head for home, the rains abated, as if to say, now you’re on the right track. Time was so short, and when I considered turning onto the road I’d missed to the park, the rains poured again, as if to tell me, no, don’t go there. And so I didn’t.
I arrived home just five minutes before 3PM, and my children and grandchildren were already there. Happily, I spent the afternoon, evening and all night and the next day (almost 23 hours) in the company of my three grandchildren who totally took my attention. The celebration of David’s life, which had seemed so important, now faded from memory as, sadly, he would.
When the children were gone, I took the time to write, let details re-emerge as completely as possible and document this which I remember of David; for a man’s immortality is in the memory of those whose lives he has touched.
Rest in Peace, David.
PS: The following weekend, my son Chris attended a get-together of some former high school class mates, including young Dave Powell. When Chris learned that Dave’s father had just died, he realized that’s whose celebration of life I’d wanted to attend. He told me, had he known, he might have gone with me.
To Dave and your brothers, our condolences at your loss and our celebration of the best years of life you and your father shared.
If I were to dedicate to David a song from my autobiographical CD, Gretchen’s Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16), it would be “Autumn Gold” - the time of year when we met and when, 30 year later, he took his leave from this earth. (Sound clips may be heard at www.GoldCupMusic.com (...)