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By Mary Rogers
TCU PressCopyright © 2008 Mary Rogers
All rights reserved.
The Love Endures * February 14, 1993
OF COURSE, she knew something was wrong.
Everyone knew something was wrong. The rabbi kept losing his place. Even when the pages were marked, even when he used his finger as a guide, the rabbi was losing his place.
Rabbi Robert Schur had been the temple leader for more than thirty years, organizing many interfaith community projects as well as civil rights marches. He'd helped in the formation of the Child Study Center and the Fort Worth Community Council, but something was wrong. Everyday tasks whirled out of control. He was sometimes frantic, sometimes lost in confusion. Life became a tangle of emotions.
In the midst of the bewilderment, on Valentine's Day 1985, the rabbi sent his wife Rolly a card. The words penned in his graceful handwriting reach out to her now across a chasm of loneliness and despair.
"I love you beyond the boundaries of verbal expression," he wrote. "I cherish your love and all we have shared.... Your Bob, February 14, 1985."
Two months earlier the articulate, respected leader of Temple Beth-El had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative condition that attacks the brain and ravages the memory.
There would be no more valentines.
Now, after a lifetime together—after raising children, building congregations, and carving out a place in the community; after fish fries, birthday parties, and graduation exercises; after a thousand Sabbath dinners and as many prayers—only Rolly owns the memories of their life together. She measures her breath as she remembers the afternoon in December 1984, when they learned the name of the sickness that would steal their happiness. They had lived with the symptoms for five years, and it was a terrifying pronouncement. "I went out in the waiting room and wept. And Bob came out and put his arms around me and comforted me," she says.
Less than two weeks later, the rabbi told the congregation he had the disease. From that moment on, he preached seldom but continued to write the eloquent prayers that had been a hallmark of his service.
"Today ..." he wrote in 1984, "the sun was slow to rise; the green of grass seemed darker than its customary hue. The birds were almost silent when I rose to dress. No wind stirred the leaves. Something stirred in me ... I thought of Grandpa's cuckoo clock ... and once again I saw him set the weights. It was the weight that made the pendulum swing. It was the weight that made the cuckoo sing!
"There is no song in life, without the burden's pull! And so, today, we thank you God ... that we can pull the weight ... and earn the right to hear the song in praise of Thee."
By the early fall of 1986, he could not continue his temple duties. He agreed to a videotaped interview with longtime friend Ellen Mack. It was, she says, the end of his cogency. He sat before the camera and said his condition was a good thing to discuss. He smiled and sometimes laughed and talked openly about Alzheimer's disease and how it scrambled his memory. No, he didn't know what day or month or year it was. No, he didn't know who was in the White House. But he did know he was losing his grip on things. Near the end of the interview, he admitted he did not know what they'd been talking about.
"I have to deal with reality," he said with a shrug. "What bothers me most of all is what it's doing to those close to me." And then, just at the end of the tape, he spoke directly to Rolly, his wife, his childhood sweetheart. The camera zoomed in for a close shot. "I wish, not for myself, but for you—my wife, my love, my partner—I wish it weren't necessary," he said of the disease. "But ... I know that we will deal with it together, because I know what you are. And somehow or other our togetherness will make it better than it would have been."
He choked and covered his eyes with a trembling hand. His friend reached to touch him and motioned for the camera to stop.
As the year progressed, so did the rabbi's anguish. "Lots of confusion in my mind—also much anxiety," he wrote at the end of 1986. "Nothing is crystal-clear except that I have great anxiety."
Rolly worked to keep things on level ground, but her husband began a frenzied regimen of pacing. He sometimes walked away from the house and became lost. She slept with one eye open. Her nerves were frayed. She nursed a rash. Finally, after several years, his acute anxiety and sometimes combative behavior became more than she could physically handle.
In 1988, the family moved the rabbi to a permanent-care facility in Dallas. It was the first time Rolly had rested in months, but for her it was also the beginning of a five-year passage into despair. "It was like a divorce I didn't want," she says. "He was here, but we weren't together."
Rolly points to a cluttered desk stacked high with files and papers and says her life is like that—a jumble of neglected projects. "I went down for five years. It's taken five years for me to want to get my house in order." She is unemotional, matter-of-fact, clear eyed. She is seventy and coming home again, clearing the desk, making a life for herself. She volunteers at the Child Study Center, goes to Sabbath services, visits museums, and shops with friends. Once a week she makes the 100-mile round-trip to see her husband in a Dallas care facility. He is seventy-one. She gets there in time to feed him lunch and stays to straighten his closet and drawers.
On a recent visit, her husband of forty-seven years sits hunched forward in a wheelchair when she arrives. She strokes his hair and kisses him. Bending close, she tells him that she loves him, then turns away to get his luncheon plate. A shadow of embarrassment seems to cross his face. He leans forward and puts his head in his hands. It is a tiny glimmer of recognition, a slim understanding of what his life has become, but it is gone in a second and he sinks back into the dim world of Alzheimer's.
She holds his hands as she feeds him, and once she wipes his nose. His hands tremble and jerk. A tear slides slowly down his cheek, a light flickers in his eyes, but it is gone in a second and his eyes are wide and vacant again. Just before she leaves for the day, she kisses him again. "I love you, Bob Schur. Are you in there? Do you hear me? I love you, Bob," she says.
He straightens just a bit and then, as she walks behind his chair, he reaches forward. His arms open wide and then close as he embraces air—but it is over in a second, and he retreats quickly into himself again.
Those little flashes are what one Alzheimer's expert calls "little miracles." Some say those moments of recognition are precious gifts to be treasured, but Rolly and others who care for Alzheimer's patients aren't so sure. As the disease takes its terrible toll, family members don't know where to put their hope.
Rolly's life seems suspended, she says. She is forever waiting, but for what? "I don't expect he'll ever be better," she says and so she must sort through her feelings and the recollections of her time with Bob. She alone is the keeper of their life's story. She is the only one who recalls their childhood days in Cincinnati, Ohio. Only she remembers that first trip together to Coney Island when they were barely in their teens. "Going out, I sat here," she says indicating a place on an imaginary train seat. "He sat there, and the coats were in between. Coming back, I sat here. He sat there." She marked places side by side on the remembered seat. "The coats were over there," she says.
Only Rolly remembers Bob's decision to become a rabbi. She was away at the University of Wisconsin, and their relationship had cooled. He was considering skipping college to go into the dress manufacturing business with his father, but Rolly wanted to marry a college man. He couldn't let her go and so he wrote her a letter. "I got his letter and I was so excited, I rushed to tell a friend all about it," she says.
She remembers the war years and their decision to marry in 1945. She recalls their wedding day, the long white wedding dress, the young man waiting for her, the flowers, the cake, the reception. "I was a nursery school teacher, and I thought I could keep working," she says. She shrugs. Life is full of unexpected turns. Two children came, a girl and a boy. There were several moves, several congregations. Finally, in the 1950s, they settled in Fort Worth.
The memories are good. Her eyes sparkle. She laughs. Her hands dance before her. There are other happy stories and then she remembers a Sabbath dinner. The rain beats a melancholy rhythm against the windows as she tells the story.
They were alone together. The candles flickered and her husband, the man she has known since she was a girl, said, "I don't know who you are. I don't know who I am. I don't know what we're doing."
She was startled. She told him he was Rabbi Robert Schur. She said she was Rolly, his wife. She explained that they were eating Sabbath dinner.
"I regret that I didn't say, 'I love you,'" she says. "I wish I had said 'I love you, Bob Schur.' "
Love, Actually * March 19, 2006
FROM THE windows of the farmhouse they restored near Weatherford, Stacie and David McDavid can see a half-dozen broodmares with new foals in the pasture across the road. The baby horses gambol about, kicking their heels in the air, feeling the power of life and the approaching spring, but on this day, a chill north wind dances over the standing seam roof of the McDavids' weekend retreat. The house, with two front rooms dating from the 1850s, was their gift to each other on their twentieth anniversary three years ago. Inside, the fires are burning, and David pulls a chair close to the hearth. He is smiling—the good ol' boy in jeans and ostrich-skin boots, the eternal salesman—but there is tiredness around his blue eyes. It is the look of a traveler who has just returned from a perilous journey and carries with him the burden—and the joy— of an important discovery.
David had spent his entire life in the car business.He glances often at Stacie and peppers his language with the word "we." "We went to a specialist in Dallas ..." he says. "We got the news and it was very sobering ... We began to look into treatments... We decided to go to Houston ..." He seldom uses the word "I," and it is clear that this is a partnership of the spirit.
She is the one who drew close to him in the darkness and listened for his steady breathing. She is the one who cradled him in her arms when she thought he slept. Sometimes he only lay still, awake in her embrace, wrapped in a shining moment of grace. She is the one who swallowed her fear and laid her hands on him, willing his recovery. She is the one who could not—would not—let go.
She is his traveling companion.
Now David is certain that last year's tonsil cancer is both a thing of the past and a blessing; an important and affirming chapter in their own private story.
Stacie, forty-nine, and David, sixty-four, are among North Texas' most public couples, with ties to the cutting-horse circuit and the world of professional sports. They are also known for the television commercials they made with Wide Track, a Great Dane who barked on cue, advertising the David McDavid car dealerships, which he sold in 1998 but that still carry his name.
Champions of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, they are also arts benefactors. In fact, the plaques have not yet been installed at Maddox-Muse Center, but a room there has been named the McDavid Studio, in recognition of their gift to Performing Arts Fort Worth.
Stacie says this commemoration is more about tomorrow than today. "It's more for the grandchildren and future generations than for us," she says, and David nods agreement.
They are gregarious people, active on Fort Worth's benefit party circuit and accustomed to media attention. In 1996, he was part of the group that bought the Dallas Mavericks. In 2000, that team sold for a reported $280 million, doubling the McDavids' investment. They made news again in 2003 when their bid to buy the Atlanta-based Hawks, a National Basketball Association team, and the National Hockey League's Thrashers, went south. They filed a suit accusing Time Warner of breach of contract and fraud, among other things. According to David, legendary attorney Johnnie Cochran wanted to take the case, but the family decided on an Atlanta firm instead. The suit is still pending.
For all their public presence, Stacie and David have kept their private life out of the spotlight, while making it appear that their story is a completely open book.
When they met in 1980, David had been married and divorced twice. The first marriage was to his high school sweetheart, Tenie Braniff, a woman he still regards with great admiration and affection. Their two sons, David Jr., now forty-four, and Jimmy, now forty-two, eventually joined him in the car business, but back then the teens lived in Tennessee and visited in the summer.
David says it took only about a year to hop in and out of the next marriage. After that, most people thought there would be no more ties to bind him—but one man wasn't buying that. A Dallas jeweler, who was also a rabbi and matchmaker, knew both David and Stacie Dieb. He thought the two would hit it off, but they refused to meet.
By then David had a string of car dealerships, plenty of jingle in his jeans, a jet plane, gold chains around his neck, a taste for diamonds—and a reputation as a high-flying ladies' man. David says that was an image he was eager to shed.
He had grown tired of the glittering nightlife, the constant inner noise of the social game. He was already looking inward and attending a nondenominational church with his sister. "I was trying to get my life straight," he says. It was a tall order.
"He'd surrounded himself with the wrong people," says his youngest son, Jimmy.
Stacie was a savvy college grad who had attended Texas Woman's University on a track-and-field scholarship. She'd been so skilled at throwing the javelin, some thought she had Olympic potential. She was living with her younger brother, Steve Dieb, and they were operating a string of fitness clubs that had more than twenty locations. This brother/sister team had been unusually close since their mother died of leukemia when Stacie was ten and Steve eight. Their father, a teacher, always encouraged their independence.
The jeweler, certain that this was a match made in heaven, continued to nag the two to meet. One day David called Stacie. "Let's just meet for lunch," David said. "It won't take but an hour."
"Let's meet for drinks," Stacie snapped. "That will only take ten minutes."
Neither was prepared for the meeting. "It wasn't love at first sight, but it was close," says Stacie. "We clicked. We enjoyed being together."
The ten-minute meeting stretched into two hours, followed by other dates—but then Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown got in the way.
Brown invited David and his brother, Bill McDavid, to be the featured gents in the magazine's bachelor issue. Who could turn down such heady stuff? But that decision almost killed the budding romance between Stacie and David. "It tested our relationship," she says. "The fan mail came in knapsacks every day for a year! It was unbelievable. There are some desperate single women out there—a lot of them prisoners."
She flashes David a smile, then turns serious. "This was a pivotal moment," she says. "David had to decide to stick our relationship out. It was clear that we loved each other's company, but he had to decide if we could go on."
"You don't marry to live with someone. You marry because you can't live without them," David says, and before long he was down on one knee on the Great Wall of China, asking Stacie to be his wife.
The McDavids were married in 1983. He was forty-one; she was twenty-seven.
"Stacie brought balance into my life," says David. "The business was growing, doing great. Before long we had seventeen stores ..."
They didn't see the storm coming; no one did, but the red-hot economy was cooling fast. "The wheels started coming off about 1987," David remembers. Soon no one was buying cars, and real estate went into a death spin.
"I had a piece of property I'd paid $12 a square foot for and the best offer I could get was $3 a square foot," he says. The car business was just as bad. By 1989, the year their daughter Sterling was born, David was trying to raise some cash, but it was tough.
The value of their Aspen retreat plummeted. Property that had sold for a million and more suddenly drew anemic bids of "$300,000 or so," says David. The worst part was that even at those bargain-basement prices there were no takers.
"I remember going up to our place in Aspen with Stacie. We had a glass of wine and sat down in these easy chairs looking out on this beautiful country. We held hands and tried to figure a way out. I was willing to sell everything.... I hoped I could hold on to one store and I thought Stacie and I could run it with this one salesman...."
Excerpted from Dancing Naked by Mary Rogers. Copyright © 2008 Mary Rogers. Excerpted by permission of TCU Press.
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