September 3, 2009

Missing Sully, Part 3

[A lot of people were stunned by the sudden death of Dave Sullivan, Sully, as the two previous posts (here and here) indicate, had an outsize impact on those who knew him. Perhaps the biggest of all was on Djar Horn, whose mother and Sully moved in together for some years in the early '80s]

All The Dad I Had

Djar Horn

Dave taught me a lot of things. To start with, it was because of him that I had the confidence to work as a union carpenter. The first time I met him, a large crew of leftists were building out a movement office in Chicago. He made me a pair of stilts. Shortly after that my mom and I started making routine visits to the south side. And around 1979 we moved in with him. I was about 8.

He had me paint my room. He and Bill Boardman worked with me to build a bookshelf for my 4th grade class. They taught me basic tool use. And when I graduated from high school, they offered to have me apprentice with them rather than head off to college. I took the path I was meant to take, but I came back to construction ten years later.

When my mom went to China in 1979, Dave got me into school and took care of me for a month. While I was happy to eat pizza for 30 days, Bill and Christine made sure I got an occasional well-balanced meal. Our time together had its kinks, but we worked them out. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell the story of the fork. I know he told it quite a few times. Shortly after my mom left on her trip, Dave was instructing me in proper table etiquette. I have wonderful table manners.

A very important rule which he learned from his grandfather: Do not reach across the table. When he was kid, his grandfather would hold a spoon in his coffee. If a child reached across the table, his grandfather would take the hot spoon and place it on their hand. We were living in the late 70’s. You might send a kid to pick up your Marlboros at the corner store, but you didn’t burn children with a spoon. Now you used a fork to get the point across. I understood the balance of power in the household until my mother came back 30 days later. And before I could hug her or even see my presents, I blurted out “Dave stabbed me with a fork”. Still makes me laugh.

I like to think that I am street-smart, but the fact is when I moved to South Chicago, a mainly working class Chicano 'hood, I was a pretty easy target. A naïve, super-friendly 8-year-old white girl could find a lot of trouble. By the time we left 87th and Burnham, I was 12. And I know that Dave had laid down the law to the neighborhood boys.

It didn’t hurt our rep when word got out about the car thief. Someone tried to steal his pickup truck (I still have an unhealthy obsession with pickups; my first new vehicle was an F-150 just like his). Late at night he heard a noise, ran out of the house with a shotgun and pointed it at the guy. Lucky for the guy, he was inside Dave’s truck; Dave wasn't about to fuck up his new truck. The guy ran. Being that we were white, the cops came immediately, found the guy ditching his tools and brought him back so Dave could “speak” to him. I never knew what he whispered to the guy.

I remember lots of other things: episodes of MASH, Giordano's deep dish pizza, walks at the Indiana dunes, no vegetables, a blue US Steel workers hat, Molly and Erica, the firehouse, a trip to Utah. In the end, we had some hard times, in part because he was less than supportive about me being queer. But when I was a kid, he was all the dad I had and I needed that.

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