In Memory of Danny Sullivan
Coming here, we’ve stepped into the vision of
September 14, 1955 – July 29, 2017
He called it Leaning to the Lake.
Realizing he would not see his finest creation completed, he reached out for help – found it in his nephew, a builder of excellence, who looked into his Uncle Danny’s dark, constantly searching eyes… listened intently to see what he had seen.
As a little boy, Danny shaped Boggy Depot dirt into intricate roads for his little cars and trucks. His small hands carefully formed bridges and overpasses that surpassed the attempts of his playmates. He built a playhouse for his little sisters, another in the tree, with a ladder and a trap door, for his brothers.
He took apart motorcycles and race cars – restored them to pristine condition… built imaginative homes, barns and businesses – rode galloping horses… sped his boat across the water.
His vision engulfs us now.
And swaying to its rhythm – for our sake –
We rest and play.
LEANING TO THE LAKE
a vision of
September 14, 1955 – July 29, 2017
Danny’s employees would say; “No one works harder than Danny!” And though demanding and sometimes gruff, he respected people who worked hard. He paid them well – made sure they were fully insured. And always generous, he’d do things like ordering large containers of long stem roses for them to take home to their sweethearts on Valentine’s Day. He made sure his mother got a dozen of them, his ex-wife – her mother too. On the roof of his Oklahoma City glass business, Danny built a glass cased home for himself, complete with a cantilevered deck with a huge TV and a hot tub. The firemen, at their station across the street, became his friends. When work was done, he’d go out dressed from head to toe in carefully chosen clean, starched and pressed western gear for drinkin’, dancin’ and havin’ fun.
Remembering Danny, his doctor brother says: “We shared a passion for adventure, whether it was canoeing through the Gore Canyon on the Colorado River or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We rode horseback through the Rocky Mountains from southern New Mexico to the Bob Marshall Wilderness of northern Montana, from the short grass prairies of west Texas to the vast, treeless expanses of Wyoming. We rounded up bison in the Wichita Mountains and explored the Buffalo River drainages of the Ozarks.” He adds, “He was fearless, tough, resourceful, had boundless energy.”
Together, the brothers bought the Historic Circle A ranch, located on the ancient travel route used by indigenous people for hundreds of years… later becoming the trail Cherokee were forced to trudge. They tended their cattle and horses and cleared the Sequoyah County rolling hills… planted grasses in its meadows. Danny built barns, mended gates and fences – repaired things - made them work. The ranch house was enlarged and the log cabin made to look the way it had over a hundred years ago. They planned the dam that is now holding back the spring waters of Buckskin Hollow, creating a large new lake. Their shared desire was to make what was in their care better for the ones to come.
Danny enjoyed the speediest cars and boats, especially when he could take somebody along with him. But he valued times past, when the fastest a man could go was on the back of a galloping horse. His dark brown eyes constantly searching, he cherished the arrowheads he found in the creek beds.
At Lake Tenkiller, Danny’s site was the last one to receive a permit for a boat dock. He used redwood timbers, steel, glass and concrete to build his three-pod structure, the vast glass of the center one “Leaning to the Lake.” But it was not yet habitable, and he was told he did not have long to live. Reaching for help to finish his final, finest creation, he found within his family the talent he needed. His master builder nephew listened intently to his very ill Uncle Danny. He tried desperately to get into the dreamer’s mind for what was still being conjured there - not yet written down or drawn. Between them, there had to be a communion of spirits… memories of past experiences and observances. One brother, an electrical engineer, wired for power and light. Sisters, who were professional designers and painters, contributed their expertise – cleaned… worked.
Danny’s family gathered around him in love. A stranger came to ask if he could pray – began by saying, “I am going to pray for a miracle.” Raising his hands, Danny said, “Wait… don’t do that. Save that prayer for someone else. I’ve had a good life. I’m not afraid to die.” And, until his thoughts were gone, they had been of finishing his “Leaning to the Lake.” He wanted us to be with him here… longed for us to come rest from our work – come play.
It Should Have Been Me
“It should have been me,” mothers cry when their child precedes them in death. They rail against the torment that it is. And it was in that bending over kind of grief that I repeated their words: “It should have been me.” They kept me company in their wailing. They understood. They saw the wrongness in the disorder and mirrored my inability to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Somehow, and out of complete need, we bear the weight of it. There is no altering its finality. There is just the going on with an acceptance that will never be fully embraced.
Still, gratitude stirs in me – surfacing slowly, but stubbornly, from somewhere deep inside my brokenness. Because the entirety of my son’s life – from birth through death – was shown to me, I watched him grow and become more and more confident. I saw him search carefully all that surrounded him. It was in the witnessing of his generous spirit, his inspired creations and his love of sharing fun and laughter that I was allowed to see the wonder of him. My memories of him will enrich me until I can remember nothing.
Dreams come now. And mixed within their magic, there is a balm of mercy:
In one, Danny is coming, holding out for me pencils of many colors – not new ones, but long and sharpened.
In another, I’m recording the journey Danny made when leaving this place. I dip a pen in a bright blue ink and write words on a pale yellow paper – words that perfectly describe his journey into the limitless sky, with its wondrous lights – the awesomeness that engulfs him. I chart a path to follow.
In this dream, I’m sitting on a stone bench, at the edge of a vast field of freshly cut grass. A little child, wrapped in a soft blanket, cuddles by my side. A ripe pear, as large as the two of us, waits nearby. Danny comes to us… smiles a kind of impish grin, and I – suddenly dressed in beautifully colored silk scarves that flow from ‘round my body – dart out onto the meadow and begin to dance… pirouetting and covering the earth in my own pure delight.
Danny Sullivan’s mom,