Today (February 10, 2022) is my brother’s 80th birthday. David Michael Lindsey was born in El Paso, Texas eighty years ago this morning.
As family, you know some of the circumstances of his birth. He is the firstborn child of my aunt, Joyce Nell Miller. She was a young girl at the time, in her mid-teens. Her older sister, my aunt Vivian Ardell Miller, was married to a handsome, charismatic young man from east Texas, W.C. Stracener. Whatever his motivation (and who will ever know?) W.C. sought to take advantage of his teenaged sister-in-law and she became pregnant by him.
The entire family, especially my Grandpa Miller…but most especially, my Aunt Vivian…were furious with him. W.C. hightailed it out of Texas and wound up in California, stopping in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through letters, he begged for Vivian’s forgiveness and begged her to join him in California. Thus began the “Miller exodus” from Texas to the western states of California and Arizona, when my Aunt Viv decided to take a gamble on W.C. (again).
My grandparents made the decision to have Joyce go to a “home for unwed mothers” out in the west Texas town of El Paso…and there, Michael was born eighty years ago today.
My parents, Hubert Lindsey and LaVern Miller, were married, at the time. My father was working as a roughneck on off-shore drilling rigs located on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They had wanted children, but my mother’s doctor, (Doctor Raglin of Gilmer, Texas) told her that she was likely barren and that it would be very difficult for her to conceive or to carry a child throughout its full term. (Little did he know that she would later successfully do so FIVE times.)
So, while my Dad was off working on an offshore drilling rig, my Mother enticed my Aunt Mildred to travel with her on the bus, to see Joyce and the new baby out in El Paso. They made the long trip together and were elated to see Joyce and meet her new son. By that time, Joyce had already made the decision (or perhaps the decision had been made for her) to place her newborn son up for adoption.
My Mother felt that this birth of Michael was an answer to her prayers to have a baby (since she had been told by her doctor she would never bear a child). To make a long story short, my Father came to agree with her; stating later that he believed God’s hand was in it.
My parents made the decision, after taking custody of Michael, to make a move to California; based largely on very flowery and encouraging letters that they had received from Aunt Viv, who had moved out to the Bay Area to join W.C. In fact, W.C. played a hand in helping my father to secure a job (building the coastal gun bunkers to defend against a Japanese invasion) with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. (This was during World War Two.)
I’m not sure of the order of moves, but all the Miller girls (my mother and my aunts) wound up living in Oakland, California, most of them all in the same neighborhood. At times, they were joined there by my Uncle Bob; and my Uncle Harry was a frequent visitor. My maternal grandparents also moved to and lived in California (although separately). They were also frequent visitors to their children’s homes and families in the Bay Area.
By the time I was born in 1950, Michael was a few months shy of nine-years old.
I am told that he doted on me, his new baby brother, and that he took great interest in me from my first days of life. And, I recall vividly what a great, big brother he was to me. He never left me out of things, always including me…even in his early dates with his high school girlfriends. And, then, years later he gave me “big brother advice” on how to secure and conduct myself on dates of my own. He always seemed very interested in and committed to my successes. (My very first date was with Kay Martha Bryant. Michael guided me through selecting just the right outfit, how to dress properly, how to tie a tie and use cufflinks and guided me through the selection of her corsage…as well as schooling me on proper conduct and gentlemanly etiquette.)
He helped me with homework. In fact, we attended the same elementary school together for his last and my first year at Grant School in Oakland. He walked me home from school. (Often, Aunt Mildred walked me to school; or I went in the company of cousins Sherian, Chock, Bill or Pamela.)
Michael taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat. He taught me how to box and defend myself. He taught me how to use basic carpentry tools. All this when I was a young boy. He was, for me, the epitome of a “big brother” and was, through my childhood and early teen years, my “hero”. He introduced me to the music of Elvis Presley and, later, so many others including Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Ricky Nelson, the Big Bopper, Fats Domino and even Marty Robbins (who sang about Michael’s birthplace, El Paso).
I always admired Michael and respected him, in part because he was so devoted and faithful in his service to our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I was born, my father was not attending church at all. Instead of going to church, he was gambling (and drinking) in saloons, going to the racetrack, betting on boxing matches at the Oakland Auditorium and hanging out with his buddies from work and labor union. I remember, at times, when I was a toddler, that my mother would send me across the street (Telegraph Avenue) to the Old Golden Saloon and tell my dad to come home. (In those days, there was a “beat cop” always on our corner and he…Officer Kelley…would see to it that I crossed the avenue and the Key Sytem train tracks safely.) Usually the bar tender, Gus, would set me up on a stool and give me a mug of sarsparilla. Sometimes, I could hear my dad, in the back room, arguing or fighting over the outcome of a dice roll. To me, at the time, it seemed he always came out the winner. Anyway, when I was a baby and the occasion of my “christening” or receiving a “name and a father’s blessing” came around, my father was not at all active in or interested in church. So, it was Michael that carried me from where my mother was seated with me, up to the Bishop and other priesthood bearers to give me a name and a blessing. It was Michael that held me up so that the congregation could see me after the blessing and carried me back to my mother’s arms. I remember him helping my mother push the stroller, usually carrying several of us siblings, as we walked to the old Mosswood Chapel at MacArthur Boulevard and Webster Street, each Sunday morning (while my Dad was often nursing a hangover, having a cup of coffee and smoking Camel cigarettes).
From the time he was twelve years of age, until he left home (after joining the United States Air Force), I witnessed Michael perform reverent and devoted service as a young man ordained in the Aaronic Priesthood, in the various offices of Deacon, then Teacher and, lastly, Priest. In my memory I can still hear him uttering the prayers of the Sacrament on a Sunday morning. We had a Bishop in our ward, Francis C. “Frank” Higham, that was committed to seeing that we become a family where every member (including my Father) was devoted to Gospel living and holding Christ central in our home.
Even though they had custody of Michael since birth, my parents arranged his adoption after they moved to Oakland, California. One of the local church leaders was a practicing lawyer and attorney-at-law, Heber Brown. It was Heber Brown that petitioned for and helped to finalize my parents’ adoption of Michael, with Joyce’s willingness and consent. Michael grew up, as did we (his siblings), never knowing that he was anything but our birth sibling. It was, I believe, rather customary at the time to keep matters like that private, if not secret, from the chlldren.
About the time that Michael was to turn sixteen years of age, Joyce had a strong desire to inform Michael of his birth and relationship to her. Even though my Mother felt much trepidation to do so, after keeping the matter secret for so many years (and, worse, secret from Michael); after prayerful consideration she felt it right to tell Michael the truth. She did, however, ask Joyce to allow her (my mother) to be the one to inform Michael.
That event was powerfully shocking to Michael, as one can imagine. He certainly (and understandably) felt like he had been deceived. He began to distance himself from what had been his immediate family, as well as from the Church he (and we) had attended faithfully. What were his reasons? One can only imagine. He broke up with his high school girlfriend, Diane Foresell. She had been a favorite of my parents and even accompanied us, at times, on summer vacations and travels to Southern California and Arizona. She was a member of our church, as well. Perhaps Michael came to fear that all family, church and close friends had known all about him and somehow conspired to keep the secret from him. To get away from it (I believe), he joined the Air Force. When he left home, I was devastated.
I had never felt any different about him, or about my parents, after we learned about Michael’s birth circumstances. To me, he remained my big brother and my hero. I wept when he left for military duty…and I think I wept every day that he was gone. When I learned that he was going to have leave, following completion of his basic training, I was ecstatic that he would be “coming home”. He did come home for a short time. I now know that he was torn between being with his adoptive family and his birth families.
Yes, I meant to say “birth families”. Michael had come to learn that his brothers and sister, that he had grown up with, were actually his cousins. His cousins, children of our aunt Joyce; Bill, Pamela, “Joey”, Frank and Chris, were actually his siblings. And his Aunt Joyce was his mother. Beyond that, he came to realize that his cousins, Carolyn and Sherian Stracener, daughters of W.C. Stracener and our Aunt Vivian, were also his “half-sisters”. In large measure, his secure world of family, church, school, friends and love interests unravelled when he was sixteen years old; and he continued to wrestle with the issues of rejection and deception during his military service (and, most probably, the rest of his life).
At times, understandably, Michael was unkind and even accusatory toward our parents. That did not set well with my father. My parents were equally devoted to Michael and they hurt greatly, realizing they had made mistakes along the way, at learning how to be parents and also how to deal with significant matters of adoption.
After the Air Force, Michael joined the Air National Guard and was stationed at a Nike missile base on the coast of Marin County. We visited him there several times. During that time, he married Cheryl Sbarboro, who lived near our family home in Oakland. She and Michael had attended Oakland Technical High School together. Cheryl made a concerted effort to try to re-affirm all Michael’s family connections. She made kind and generous attempts with us (Michael’s siblings), often taking us to the cinema or our for a burger, pizza or ice cream. They divorced after several years. Michael always seemed to have a degree of “lostness”. In real ways he had “lost” family and had to wrestle with redefining what family meant to him.
Our father died in November 1971, following a horrific traffic collision during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Michael accompanied me and our brother John to Gilmer, Texas (where we held a second funeral, following the first held in the Oakland Ward chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). On that trip, Michael told me that he felt like he had lost his father twice. Michael re-connected with some of our Lindsey cousins while we were there for Dad’s funeral. He always had a great affection for Sherian Rae Lindsey and her family (the daughters of Uncle Raymond and Aunt Kathleen).
About this time, Michael married Sandra Dalliol. And in close proximity to this event, Mary Myers and I married, after which I joined the California Highway Patrol. Michael and I kept in touch when I was stationed down in the southern California desert regions. When he and Sandra had their baby girl, Alicia, Michael called me and told me that I had a new niece and invited us to come up to meet her. (I had previously met Sandra at several family functions.)
That visit to Michael and Sandra’s home (in Danville) was a truly enjoyable experience. Michael seemed happy and proud…and ecstatic to be a father to this new, precious and beautiful, baby girl. And I was happy for and proud of my “big brother”.
Michael, seemingly, was secure and pleased in a career job with Pacific Gas and Electric company. He would let me know of advancements, pay raises and career accomplishments, occasionally. The first half of the 1970s decade seemed to be positive and prosperous for Michael and his family.
Somewhere, seemingly, he made some wrong turns. It seemed he had lost the gleam in his eye, except when he was in the company of his daughter, Alicia. He wrote once that he loved her the best and the most. I am sure that is true. Maybe it was his sense of “lostness” or the overwhelming sorrows for what he had lost throughout life, I cannot be sure; but he turned more and more toward alcohol and even drugs in attempts to ease his burdens. Maybe it was a form of “self-medicating”, but I sense more that it was a genuine disease. I know he had sought help on occasion for this problem. At times, he was even hospitalized. Whatever the reason or reasons…and they were NOT all of his own doing…he gave into that sense of “lostness” and took his own life on August 5, 1982.
His death was sudden and unexpected. To this day I am thankful for Senator Jake Garn (of Utah) assisting our family at arranging Michael’s interment at the San Francisco Presidio National Cemtery. I am especially grateful that Bishop Frank Higham conducted Michael’s funeral that day and helped bring a measure of healing to family hearts. Bishop Higham’s ministry in the lives of our family has been among life’s greatest blessings.
Today, I believe he finds himself in Paradise now with family, friends and loved ones that never gave up on loving him (however they may have stumbled or faltered along the way). I choose to believe that he is no longer lost. I am convinced of it. I suspect he acts as a “guardian angel” at times for his precious daughter, his three grandsons and granddaughter (of tender years).
Happy Heavenly birthday, Brother Michael.
I remain proud to be your brother, Mickey.
P.S. Just a few days before Michael’s last day amongst, he came to my work. He had been unemployed and really “down and out”. Nervously and apologetically, he asked me if I could provide him with any type of work. I want in the midst of a busy work day, trying to deal with many demands on my time. I apologetically told Michael I had nothing at the time, but I would give it consideration and get back to him soon. He told me that I could reach him at Joyce’s house. At the time, a strong impression came upon me to stop all that I was doing and take him with me to my home and spend the rest of the day with him and help him, if I could, come up with a solution for overcoming his problems. But, I ignored that prompting because of considering the business pressures upon me at the time. That was a mistake that I will forever regret. I’ve had thousands of business problems. I’ve only had one big brother.
P.P.S. I do not have every family member’s email address, with whom I would like to share this message about Michael. Perhaps, Paula you could share it with Sherian, Alicia with your Mom, Jeffrey or Marilyn with Harry and John…or with others that you may feel appropriate.
P.P.P.S. Remember “suicide prevention” may be difficult, but it is much more rewarding than dealing with the aftermath…which is like a hand grenade that goes off shredding all loved ones of the deceased with unintended shrapnel.