Sitting alone in the lobby last night, he was drinking red wine and looking like a wealth of stories.
Dan was spending the night at the Pfister, away from his home in Scottsdale, to attend the Northwestern Mutual Life annual meeting. He’s worked and traveled for the company for 44 years, so estimates that he’s been at the Pfister literally 100 times.
He was a bit skeptical of having his photo taken, but I will remember his face because he was very kind to me. He wore a suit coat and stylish, tan glasses, and I know he is 79 years old because he opened his story with the year he was born: 1938.
When Dan was born, he told me, the US was about to enter into WWII and the Pacific War was brewing. When his father had graduated from high school and quickly found there weren’t any jobs to be had, he worked for eight years to earn his degree so that he could become a teacher and coach. Because by that time he was too old to go to war, he found work in the defense plants in Washington. But when his wife became pregnant with their second child in 1944, Dan’s father became concerned that the only hospital was over an hour and a half away from their home. He loaded up his pregnant wife, five year old Dan and every single one of their possessions into their car and drove to start again in Kansas City, where their new home was heated with a single coal-burning stove that Dan was responsible for feeding with the pile of coal they kept in the garage.
Dan said that he chose to tell me this story because it reminds him of the potential power in modest beginnings, and how he is extremely grateful for a nation where a new life can rise from such humility.
He credited his mother with modeling optimism even in the face of adversity, including the tragic death of his younger sister during a kidney operation, and his father with teaching him the value of hard work. He says these lessons have shaped him as a parent to his two grown sons, who are now raising his four grandchildren.
Dan reminded me that as a writer, I should never forget there are always several stories within a story.
This makes me think of the numberless stories housed in a long life like his, and also the scores of lives we could have lived, if just one thing had happened differently. If his father had gone off to war instead of staying back to work in the defense plants or hadn’t been bold enough to drive everything he loved in the world across the country to try to carve a life there, if his little sister hadn’t had trouble with her kidney.
Our stories and lives are complicated and compelling, aren’t they? Such endearingly knotty things.