I had a brother once but not for long enough.
David Carey Small was a kind man, a modest man, a man of great talent and heart, a cool cat. And he was my brother.
When my mom remarried twenty five years ago our little family of three exploded. My new dad had five grown children, all married and most with kids of their own. Soon this new family grew even more with more grandbabies and great grandbabies. It was a complicated union of our families, joining together so late in the game, and it was a difficult situation, but one thing stood out. David. The only son. David was named after the Liberty ship my dad served on during WW2. Since his birth, many of the babies in the family have carried on his name.
From the first moment we met he swooped down and gave me a huge hug and said welcome to the family. He really meant it too. His adorable wife Una became a sister to me as well, and her mother became a dear friend to me. They felt like family. They are family. It was love at first sight.
I wish I knew then how short our time together was. I wish instead of being rebellious and fiercely independent and moving away from home so young that I had spent more time with my new family. But I was young and that’s how it goes.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I reconnected with David and Una. They invited me to their annual birthday party in March, fondly called the Pisces Party. Their home is an eclectic place, full of love and music. David was a talented musician, his ability with guitars was amazing. For a time in the 60’s his band, The Tyde, played all over the City, at the Fillmore and other famous places back in “the day”, playing with the big name bands. Despite a stint away in Vietnam, and all the changes that everyone inevitably went through then, the band stayed together. David and Una met when they were kids, and after the war, when she was (finally) old enough, they married. They have two great grown kids, and darling granddaughters, all of whom have inherited David’s red hair. And the music played on. The band stayed together, they grew older together. He inspired this kind of lifelong bonding. It was just who he was.
Going to their home for the first time for the Pisces party was amazing. Their dining room was a band room, it just never could be used for anything else. Kenny, their son, is an amazing drummer. And everyone sang. All of the Smalls have incredible voices. But David also sang with his hands by playing the guitar. Sitting on the back deck with a cold beer, or at his feet on the floor, or tucked away in a corner of the kitchen I would watch and listen to The Tyde and my brother play all night long. These are memories that I am so lucky to have seared into my head. He was so talented, and seeing him perform, so in love with what he was doing, so alive, it was beautiful. I loved his voice, and they performed a lot of Grateful Dead kind of music, and he did it so well. If I looked away from him to the collage of all the Jerry Garcia photos on the wall above the couch filled with his friends from forever, all swaying and snapping and singing along, I almost believed I had traveled back in time to the 60’s to Jerry’s house or something. The music played on all night, and when I got tired, around 3 or 4 am, I would head back to the spare room, nest on the floor and fall asleep listening to David and his friends, still having fun and making beautiful kick-ass music together.
The next morning, I would unravel myself, head to the hot tub with a cup of coffee and hear David still singing around the house, just like his dad, but with rock or country instead of opera. Sometimes we’d play backgammon or just talk about nothing in particular. Those were the best days ever. From the moment I would walk in the door he’d give me that big hug and introduce me to his dearest friends as his sister. Over the years we’d tease each other. Was he ever going to cut his hair, which he did; was I ever going to settle down, which I haven’t. I told him he needed to find me a guy like him, so I could be as happy as he and Una. He liked it when I wore strappy high heeled sandals with my toes painted up like glowing raspberries, and I would almost be able to look him in the eye, teetering a little. He liked it when I streaked my hair very blonde, but then I teased he was biased as Una’s hair is blonde too. He loved good vodka and I would always give him something yummy for his private stash, and fix him a martini, just the way his dad taught me.
Even though we didn’t chat on the phone or email much, and getting together was only a few times a year, I knew he was there, the coolest brother around. Seeing him at each visit it felt as if no time had passed.
He gave me some of his CDs, and I loved popping them into friend’s stereos or cars. Listen to this, I’d say, they would be impressed. That’s my brother! Now they’re on my iPod and still are in the top songs I play the most.
I loved how he befriended everyone around him in his quiet way and his easy laugh. He was so humble, he never talked about some of the things he did for people, amazing stories that only came out at his memorial. I still can’t write about that day. I haven’t been able to write about him at all until now.
For us, the music stopped six years ago, October 13. David was 57. He died suddenly of an unknown and undetectable heart condition.
One of my most treasured possessions is a shell casing my dad shared with me from the 21 gun salute at David’s service. Although I don’t generally believe in it, just for David I am absolutely sure he is up in heaven, jamming on a guitar with Jerry, Jimmy and Janice, and teaching them a thing or two. And chuckling in his familiar way at my attempts to tune my octave guitar with the tuning fork he gave me. Someday he was going to teach me to play. Someday I will learn. But since he died I just dust my guitar, and every October I try to tune it and play a little and then set it back in its little chair. Even when I feel the most alone and lost, I remember my big brother and I can still feel his hug. I miss you, my brother.
(Please listen to one of my favorite songs that David performed, recorded in his home, After the Storm, by the Tyde, David C. Small on guitar)