By Chris Parker

cparker@tnonline.com [1]

It's July, 1965, and I step out of the car into the bright, blistering heat of an Arizona afternoon.

My mother and I have traveled from our Pennsylvania home to this swath of desert near Prescott to visit my oldest brother, David, and his wife Pauline. The young couple had staked out acreage in what I, at age 14, thought was one of the most Godforsaken stretches of land on Earth.

But while I saw unending miles of dry scrub and sand, David and Pauline envisioned a working ranch and a perfect place to raise children. Although their plans evolved over the years, David and Pauline stayed on their land and raised a son, David Jr.

They made sure their boy grew up with solid, defined values and a strong, can-do character. I would have expected no less.

With a 16-year age difference separating us, my earliest memories of David were of his visits home from the Army, handsome in his uniform. David was a "Marlboro man" sort of guy: Quiet, tough and determined.

When I was about 10, he arrived for a visit home with a strikingly beautiful young woman. With her long black hair, dark eyes and serene manner, Pauline quickly captured all our hearts.

When David mustered out of the service, he and Pauline yearned for the freedom, challenges and promise of the west. They were frugal, and quickly saved enough money to buy a patch of land in Arizona.

With hard work and specific goals, they cleared land, built their home and raised their son. As time wore on, our visits grew more sporadic and letters and telephone calls more infrequent. Eventually, months would pass without an exchange.

But 15 months ago, the loss of our sister, Kay, prompted a rebuilding of communication. We called, chatted via email, mailed family photos back and forth, reminisced.

About a month ago, I stopped hearing from him. Emails dwindled. When I called, our conversations were brief. David sounded out of breath, as though he'd come running to answer the phone.

Everything was just fine, he'd say. He was thinking about getting the bike back on the road David loved his motorcycle.

I chalked up the sparse communication to busyness on both our parts.

That notion came to a crashing halt on Friday evening when our brother Bob, who lives about two hours away from David, called. While David and Kay shared similar personalities both were high-energy and assertive Bob and I are more laid-back, softer.

As soon as I heard the tautness in Bob's voice, I knew. David had died that morning. It turns out, he had suffered from emphysema and had been tethered to oxygen tanks for more than a year.

Typical of David's refusal to acknowledge any illness or weakness, he had never mentioned his failing health.

Bob and I talked for an hour before hanging up. I moved through the weekend in a haze of grief, busying myself with chores.

As I come to grips with this latest loss, I keep trying to remind myself to be grateful for the gift of that recent reconnection with David, and to be more appreciative of each day that I have with those I love, because you never know ...