My first childhood memory of my cousin, Delbert Dale Stewart, affectionately known as DD, occurred about the time that I was five years old and he was sixteen. I remember being in awe of this blonde curly headed teenager whose smile made me feel welcome in his home, but not the sanctity of his room. He was sweet but not particularly interested in spending time with a little kid. Nonetheless, he would always ever so politely greet me before gravitating to my father for a long and serious conversation about things that I did not yet understand.
The next moment that I remember about DD came when my mother and my Aunt Valeria took me and his sister, Ingrid, to the Frontier Fiesta at the University of Houston. It was a fun affair run by the fraternities and sororities and other student organizations at the school. We feasted on barbecue and enjoyed music and all sorts of games when suddenly DD appeared with a group of friends all decked out in long duster coats, cowboy hats, and boots. Though he was a member of my family, he took my little girl breath away. He looked like a movie star and I felt so proud to be his cousin. Even as a child I saw that he was a leader, someone that everyone admired as much as I did.
Eventually DD met the most beautiful woman that I have ever known, his beloved Fran. She was as sweet and kind as she was gorgeous and I thought that I was taking part in a real life fairytale when I attended their wedding. I was still a bit afraid of my remarkable cousin because he had become a man and I was still a gawky little girl, but he was always kind to me in spite of our ten year age difference.
DD became a banker and was a huge success in that role. He was known as an honest man who went above and beyond the call of duty both for his bosses and his customers. He rose quickly through the ranks while he and Fran created a beautiful life together. Theirs was a love story for the ages resulting in two daughters and a son. Each Christmas Eve they would arrive at my Grandmother’s celebration and be the hit of the crowd. In spite of his success, DD always remained a down to earth and loving member of the family. We in turn celebrated his promotions and sterling reputation, seeing him as a role model of a life well lived. Secretly all of the cousins wanted to grow up to be just like him.
Eventually the age difference between DD and me began to narrow as I too became an adult. We shared more and more in common and I felt less and less intimidated by his greatness. I was able to enjoy quiet conversations with him that told me how much more wonderful he was than I had even imagined. He told me stories about our grandfather who had died before I was born. I learned from DD that he and our grandpa had sat together on Friday afternoons discussing the books that the patriarch of the family brought home at the end of each work week. They’d munch on fresh rye bread and talk about my grandfather’s love of farming and his dream of one day retiring and owning a place in the country.
DD often mentioned my father as well. He spoke of how much he enjoyed visiting with my Daddy. They would talk about an endless variety of topics including literature and sports. DD said that he often sought my father’s advice and that the two of them were very much in tune with each other. These were things that I never knew and I really appreciated that DD shared such memories with me. Somehow he understood that it was important for me to know more about what my father had been like.
DD was a remarkable man who actually reminded me of my father. Both men were brilliant and gifted with a wide range of talent. They appreciated and collected books, art, music. Both were able to quote entire passages from favorite novels and poems. They were true were Renaissance men. DD was perhaps the most interesting man that I ever knew as an adult. He had an ability to converse about any topic with vast swaths of knowledge. More importantly he possessed a kind of wisdom that is rare. I never talked much around him because I just wanted to listen to whatever he had to say. I always walked away with the feeling that I really mattered to him.
DD was known far and wide as an honorable man. He had a quick wit and sense of humor and a charisma that drew people to him. I suppose that all of my life I was in awe of him and I also loved him so. Somehow it felt very special to be related to someone as extraordinary as he was. He was awesome!
DD eventually developed Parkinson’s disease. For decades his body slowly deteriorated but his mind remained as sharp as ever. His beloved wife Fran remained dedicated to him through the difficult years of watching him grow frail. Eventually he became wheelchair bound and their lives became more and more isolated. Both of them kept up the love for each other and the fight for his health. They carried on with courage and resilience, always finding ways to celebrate even as DD became less and less able to fend for himself.
The last time I saw DD he sat in his wheelchair barely able to talk. I’m sure he was in pain but he still sat at the table with us like the consummate host. It was difficult for me to witness his state when I new that his genius was trapped inside a body that no longer worked properly. Nonetheless his generosity and kindness and courage was as apparent as ever. The love that he had created in his family was now shared with him as his daughter and son-in-law doted over his every need. Fran was as beautiful and giving as ever.
Dale Delbert (DD) Stewart died this week. I was greatly saddened by his passing but also somewhat relieved that he is no longer suffering. Amongst my great big group of cousins I think he may well have represented the very best of us. He lived life to the fullest and embraced learning and loving every single day. He was a joyful person who brought happiness wherever he went. He was a brilliant man, a devoted husband and father, a true servant of God. I will miss him, but I am comforted by the thought that he is whole again in his heavenly home. I can see him standing tall and handsome and grinning from ear to ear. I am now and forever in awe of my extraordinary cousin DD.