ESSAY: Childhood of a Prince, Part Four

Read Part One

Family secrets. Confused time lines, distorted facts, details left out.

Case in point: the story of Mom and Dad’s “break up…” Over the years I have arranged enough pieces to give you a sufficient picture…

Mom, who was attending Case Western College in Cleveland, had fallen for another guy, and summarily broke up with Spike.

Mom with the Other Guy.

Spike didn’t take this too well and spent most of his time in bars, fuming, trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do… (besides punching out this bastard Lothario). I don’t know how many gallons of booze it took him to conclude that he had to go to Cleveland, but he sobered up enough to hop in his brand new Chevy and head off to rescue his romance. On the way, his car stalled on a railroad track. Yep, you guessed it. A train was coming. Spike got out and started pushing but it was no use. He jumped out of the way and watched in horror as his shiny new car was demolished.

I have no idea what transpired in Cleveland, but it couldn’t have been good for my Dad. He trudged back home in a fog of depression. Both his romance and his car had been smashed.

Dearma and Dearpa and my mother’s sisters Maneeta and Bev loved Spike, and began a campaign to bring my future mother to her senses. Evidently it worked, but somehow I think there are more pieces to this puzzle hiding under the couch.

Mom and Dad on their honeymoon, 1950.

After her graduation Mom and Dad were married, and nine months later I arrived in this world. I was named David Caldwell Duncan.

Spike never liked the name David, but I never knew why until much later. It seems that the collegiate usurper who had swept my mother off her feet was named David. Of course Mom has repeatedly denied that I was named after this guy. She says she just liked the name.

Well, I always thought that I was named after my great-grandfather David Caldwell. Makes sense, wouldn’t you think? Hell no! We found out later that Dearma’s father had had an affair with the maid’s daughter and swept her off to California, along with Dearma’s two older brothers Clyde and Ernie. He had left his wife and nine-year-old daughter alone without any visible means of support, broken-hearted and destitute.

David the Terrible.

Then I discovered, to my chagrin, that David the Terrible (with the help of his friend the judge) had actually committed my great-grandmother to a miserable sanitarium. Can you imagine what my sweet Dearma must have gone through? Her doting father, and her two older brothers ‒ whom she had idolized ‒ had suddenly disappeared. And worst of all, her dear sweet mommy had been forcibly taken from her and stashed away in a God forsaken nut house. Dearma never talked about this to me, or anyone else for that matter. She was an extremely strong, proud woman. I remember watching her in awe as she put the fear of God in some rude clerk or an incompetent repairman. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

After years of piecing this particular tale together I came to the conclusion that my mother was insane for naming me David. Only recently I found out from my Aunt Bev that Dearma and others had tried to talk her out of that evil name to no avail. And now I’m stuck with it for eternity.

All in all I had a very sweet childhood. But there were some little indicators of things to come. I had had some depression and mood swings starting in the third grade. And I was prone to playing nasty and sometimes dangerous pranks on friends and strangers alike. One time I stashed a secret treasure map in a can and buried it out in the backyard. Somehow I got Bobby to dig a hole out there, and sure enough, he found it. My best friend Timmy, his little brother Jimmy, and we three brothers (Moe, Larry, and Curly) marched off to the water lot to find the treasure. The map finally led us to a huge clump of bushes in the woods. There was a cave-like opening on the side. I stood back while my brothers and pals crawled into the bushes. How were they to know that there was a giant hornets’ nest where the treasure was supposed to have been? I scrammed out of there fast. In a few seconds a swarm of angry hornets were stinging the horrified chumps as they ran screaming all the way home. I just sat back and laughed. New lesson learned: Sometimes people are rats – including me!

Even with my “quirks,” I was very content living in our little town. Though I was having a hard time at school and felt uncomfortable (feeling different than my schoolmates) this was my home. Something about church and religion bothered me like it had Grandpa, yet I felt that these were my people and this was my world. Our cozy house was filled with music. Swing, Dixieland, Musicals and Classical music resonated. We were a noisy clan nestled in our warm Fifties cocoon.

And then one evening at the dinner table Dad announced that we were moving to Dallas, Texas. I couldn’t have been more shocked and terrified if he had poked me in the eye with his classy ballpoint pen. After a few tearful questions I got up and dashed outside. I ran all the way to the top of the woods and collapsed into a bed of ferns. I sat up there and watched the sun go down over the Beaver Valley. In the distance flowed the beautiful Ohio River with its barges and bridges, surrounded by glorious verdant hills. Down below was my precious little town. I was twelve years old and it was all I had ever known. I thought about my grandparents. They had been my oxygen and I needed them to breathe. How could I live without them?

In a few days I seemed to recover. My troubled thoughts turned to curiosity about Dallas. Wow, a big, far away city. Now I could see the adventure in this crazy scheme of Spike’s. This thing might work after all.

Months passed and then it was time to leave. The moving van had already gone. We had said goodbye to almost everyone, but I have forgotten most of the details. I do remember driving out to Mercer Road to say our farewells to Dearma and Dearpa. After many hugs and kisses we piled into the Chevy Impala convertible. As we slowly drove away, I focused on Dearpa. He had taken off his glasses and tears were streaming down his face. I remember the sudden lump in my throat as my excitement about the trip vanished into thin air. I had never seen a grown man cry. I knew at that very instant that nothing would ever be the same.

My childhood was officially over.

DC Duncan

DC has been a frustrated musician for over forty years, and now has decided to become a frustrated writer. Learn more at DCDuncan.com. He’ll keep you posted.