Thoughts From Six Feet Away: How Does the Circus Run Without a Ringmaster?
In what has become an alarming trend, I find myself writing tributes to the dearly departed. I’ve written previously that I’ve been spared from loss, for the most part, throughout my life. These seem to come in clusters, with the loss of casual friends and the parent of a friend about ten years ago. This cluster hits a little closer to home, with the loss of my friend John, followed by the loss of my former neighbor Wes, culminating in the biggest soul-crushing loss of them all – my friend Keith. But now, Death has come to visit family.
Last week, I lost an uncle. More specifically, my wife’s uncle.
Dave was a bright spot of wit and hilarity in all our lives. He had a way of brightening any room he entered, the epitome of the “cool uncle.” He taught me the Moser Rule of 37, which states that no matter what you do, 37% of people will gripe about it. It has served me in my practice of medicine, as well as life. He was proud of showing off his old basketball pictures, which all seemed to showcase his armpits. When we would visit on holidays, Dave was usually at work, caring for the huddled masses in the emergency room. He took great delight in regaling us with stories of those he encountered. Some of the tales had real staying power, and we didn’t mind hearing them over and over again.
I met Dave for the first time in the spring of 1994. Robin and I had already been dating about seven months, and the family was getting together at the house in Greenwood. I was working third shift at the hospital at that time, and I only got about two hours of sleep before having to make the drive. Robin had been out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the night before as well; suffice it to say, neither one of us was putting our best foot forward that day. The thing about attending a Moser family function was that there were no strangers, and there was always an immediate level of comfort, even for an outsider like me at the time. Dave offered to take us all to dinner, and Robin and I rode with Dave in his new Lexus. He was proud of the CD changer that this car had, with the CDs stored in a cartridge in the trunk (for you younger folks in the crowd who don’t know what I’m talking about, ask you parents. For you older folks who don’t know what I’m talking about, ask your kids). He asked if anyone wanted to hear a song, and Robin piped up from the back seat that she wanted to hear some Queen. Before we knew it, Dave had queued up “Fat Bottomed Girls” and turned the volume up so loud the seats shook. I remember thinking to myself, “I like this guy.”
Dave knew of my ambition to go to medical school, and he was always supportive of my efforts, assisting wherever he could. When I became interested in osteopathic medicine, he was the one who found a D.O. who would be willing to write me a recommendation letter. When my efforts paid off and the acceptance letter arrived, Dave simply said to me, “You have my congratulations, and my condolences.” When I would bring my school notes home for holidays, he would rifle through the extensive handouts and muttering, “Won’t need this…won’t need this…never even heard of this…”
Like any good Moser, Dave loved to play games. Beating him at a trivia game was a difficult task, mainly because trivia questions were filed into two categories: questions Dave knew the answer to, and questions that were “stupid.” He actually worked with computer game developers on their AI, and I remember him showing us a euchre game once that had a computer player that played with my tendencies. In other words, you either skunked your opponent or lost in a heinous manner. He especially loved those games that required strategy. He got us hooked on Age of Empires, and Sid Meier’s Civilization was one of his favorites. I remember visiting one Christmas, and he was playing when I went to bed. When I got up the next morning, he was still playing; to this day, I’m not sure if he went to bed or not. When I asked him how his game was going, he replied in true Dave Moser fashion, “Pretty good. I should have a working railroad by the birth of Christ.”
It should come as no surprise to those who know the Mosers and their mates, but we’re goofballs, and we love a good laugh. Dave was our patron saint, our avatar, our ringleader. I can’t speak for the others, but Robin and I were very close to Dave. We had a slew of inside jokes, and for many years where we did nothing but quote lines from the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven, or the complete works of Monty Python. But like the great comedy teams of the past, you have to have a straight man, and that was Bonny. Poor Bonny – she had her hands full keeping us in line sometimes. Dave would always call her the “wet blanket,” and she took the moniker in stride. In all the time I’ve known them, I only saw her get on Dave once for being a little too extra, and how quickly he fell into line was a sight to behold. As time went on, Robin and I spent many weekends with them, going out to eat or just spending time together. They introduced us to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and that gift has paid dividends in my life that are too numerous to mention here.
Dave’s interests were wide and varied. He was a diehard Colts fan, and it was a true joy getting to watch Colts games with him during the rise of Peyton Manning. I remember going to preseason holiday games with him, and I can still see Edgerrin the Touchdown Monkey, perched on his place on the shelf. He loved the company of the many dogs he had during the time I had known him, giving them formal names, and talking to them like they were one of the family, deeply loved like the rest of us. But perhaps his greatest passion was the Civil War, and I loved watching his eyes light up when he spoke of its history. My favorite story was when he went to a Gettysburg re-enactment with Anita and Charlie. The guide told them where to stand and watch, but this wasn’t good enough for Dave (you can always tell a Moser, but you can’t tell them much). He remembered reading the journal of a young man who had witnessed the whole battle behind one particular tree. Dave set out to find that tree and found it he did. When you saw Dave’s picture from this vantage point, it was hard to argue the results.
There were challenging days, too. When he went through a particularly rough period in 2000, we were there to pay back all the kindness, all the emergency loans when we were broke and struggling. And when he asked me if I would oversee his care in the final months of his life, I accepted without hesitation. Thankfully, the good Lord allowed me to compartmentalize and separate my doctor role from my family role. Last week was not a surprise to me, but there was still a longing for just one more visit. I last saw Dave via a virtual visit, and he was in good spirits. Had I known that this would be the last time I spoke with him, I would have said so much more. Thanks. I love you. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? For the record, the answer is 21 mph, but I'm sure Dave already knew this.
We will all carry Dave’s memory in our hearts, and I already have a plan for honoring his memory. When collecting rent in Monopoly, I plan to continue to exclaim his signature line, “And you will PAY!” I’ll continue to regard questions I don’t know the answer to as stupid. I’ll strive to remember all the colors in Joseph’s coat. I will reminisce about Cubby Paws every time I pass a Ritters. I will pat aspiring med students on the back and proclaim, “You have my congratulations and my condolences.” “Fat Bottomed Girls” will always be played loud. And on my next road trip, I’ll play the 22-minute version of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick.”
In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “Do not pity the dead. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.” Or perhaps Dave would have preferred the words of Clint Eastwood: “We’ve all got it comin’, kid.”
There’s one more angel in heaven, there’s one more star in the sky. I’ll miss you, Dave. Be excellent to each other. Please.