A friend of mine, Dave Hammer, died last week. He was 66. While some of my Lakeside readers knew Dave, many did not. Certainly none of my readers in my hometown of Seattle or other parts of the US or Canada knew him. So, let me tell you a little about Dave Hammer.
Dave, or Dash as we called him, grew up in rural Middle America, a product of Minnesota and Iowa. And although he was a Leo, Dash was not the sort of person who drew attention to himself. He majored in music at Texas A&M-Commerce and became a high school music teacher. His first teaching position was in Paris, Texas where he created a music program at a local high school.
However, on his way to the first day of the school, Dave was involved in a serious car accident. Because of the seriousness of his injuries, doctors expected a long, slow recovery. But Dave, being the fighter he was, defied the doctors and began teaching and creating the school’s music program just weeks after the accident. The collision, however, did have one lasting effect on Dash; his speech was impacted and, as a result, he used a simpler vocabulary, shorter sentences, and spoke slower than he had prior to the accident.
Because of a romantic relationship, Dash left Paris after five years and moved to Houston where he worked in a music store. After several years, his partner Gary was offered a job in Dallas and they relocated there. Dash again secured work in a music store.
But in about 1982, both Dash and Gary became infected with HIV. Gary died in 1988.
Several months later, Dash, still in Dallas, met Randy and they were together until 2007 when Randy died of non-HIV related issues. But during their time together, Dash was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS and developed serious symptoms of many of the syndrome’s most fatal conditions. It was 1995. Doctors told him he had six weeks to live.
Dash, however, had heard about a drug available in Europe, but not approved in the US, and managed to acquire it. Defying his doctor’s prediction, and again being the fighter Dash was, he again proved them wrong. It took him a full 15 months to recovery, but Dash did recover.
The death of his partner Randy in 2007 triggered another move, another change in Dash’s life. He relocated to Phoenix to join lifelong friend Jeff Vadheim with whom he had attended elementary school in Minnesota. As neighbors and elementary school mates, they had discovered a common bond, stamp collecting. They shared this hobby through Dash’s life. After a short time in Phoenix, the two friends moved to Chapala, Mexico where, after a few years, they became involved in the Graffiti Patrol, painting over graffiti and taggings throughout the city. Dash also began collecting plastic bottle tops and plastic bags which were turned in and used to fund chemotherapy for children with cancer.
That is what Dash was doing when he had a massive stroke March 6. He was on his daily morning Malecon walk with Jeff and several other regular walkers, and, as he did on these walks, Dash was picking up plastic bottle tops and bags. Witnesses said it appeared Dash, while reaching down to pick up a bottle top, tripped on a brick and fell, hitting his head with force. He was rushed to the hospital where tests revealed a stroke had caused the fall. The tests also showed that Dash’s stroke had been so severe he would never walk or talk again. After a short hospital stay, Dash was moved to Casa Nostra Nursing Home in Riberas, near Chapala, where he received constant professional, loving care.
When Dash was physically able, he was a runner, and that is how he got his nickname. He had participated in a run called the “Dash for the Timbers” and earned the obligatory T-shirt. Friends, seeing him in the shirt and through a convoluted conversation, anointed him Dash and it stuck. Dash also was a classical music buff, with a special love for opera. Therefore, as he lay in bed at Casa Nostra, paralyzed from the neck down, unable to speak, classical music was constantly playing near him.
Dave Hammer died on June 14, his lifelong best friend Jeff’s birthday. They will forever be cosmically linked to that day. Dash’s years of fighting for survival were over. The run had ended; he had crossed the finish line. And, although I knew Dave Hammer for only two years, I am thankful the recipe for my life included a Dash of Dave.