Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trailblazer, David Meriable (1943-2012)

This was a portrait photograph that I made of David Meriable back a few years ago, September of 2005 in fact.  We had been guests, David and I and a few others, at an informal dinner of the members of the Class of 1963 from Pawhuska High School.  David was from the Class of 1961 and I from the Class of 1962, although I actually graduated in 1967 from College High School in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  Pawhuska is a small town and we had only our one high school, Pawhuska High School, after Booker T. Washington School was closed during our school integration.  Classes didn't really matter; you were in one class because of incident of when you were born but your friends might be from several classes above you or several classes below you.  I always had such friends and David was one of them.  I can not remember for certain when I met David but we had several friends in common, particularly the one we called The Big Indian, Jess Paul Tomey.  Meriable is obviously Indian and I am part but for some reason, The Big Indian stuck to Jess. 

I think it was through Jess that David and I became closer friends.  Jess was of the Class of 1962 also but let's say Jess was able to find ways of moving backwards.  Jess liked knowing things; David and I liked learning.  David and I were in band together and we had only one senior high band which was made up of Freshmen through Seniors.  I played clarinet and David played trumpet or cornet.  Ronnie Havens who is my very close friend also played trumpet and he was very good but he told me not long ago that David was always much better than Ronnie.  Not long ago may now be three or four years for in our age group, they run together some.

David was also a student conductor and Mr. Arnold, our legendary band teacher would instruct David, help him learn, and then occasionally let David take over the band.  It may have been 1960 when we traveled to one particular concert contest in the Spring and David took a Division I award for student conducting (Division I is the best).  He was also in one of the groups, a quartet or other and he also soloed for the competition.  What I remember particularly about his status as a student conductor was one evening after basketball season had begun.  Pawhuska had a wonderful team then with Carlos Gripado, Jay Lynn Hurt, Charley Bighorse, the Brown brothers, and we hoped for great things, a state championship perhaps.  The band played at basketball games as well as football games.  The weather turned very bad and Mr. Arnold had kids calling us to tell us not to go as it was too risky.  Shortly, one of my friends called and said that anyone who wanted to volunteer could come but we were on our own.  I went, of course, though I do not remember how I got there.  David came and led the band as student conductor.  We were a rag tag lot as we did not have the full band but we played and Pawhuska liked it.  I was a good memory for us.

At the end of the school year, perhaps David's junior year, we had an awards ceremony along with just a general fun session with a talent show and entertainment.  There were school competitions I did not know about until then when the awards were given out.  In the fields of mathematics, art, science, engineering, etc. David was a winner.  Mr. Arnold was the Master of Ceremonies and as he announced one category, then announced the name of David Meriable, David moved on stage to collect his certificate.  Soon David's name was announced once again for another award, and then another.  After a while it became almost embarrassing as David's name was called again and again.  Mr. Arnold announced a competition for engineering and he said, "Does anyone want to guess who the winner is?"  Several down in front said in unison, "David Meriable!"  There was laughter everywhere, including from David, but he was also turning a bit red beneath his dark complexion.  Mr. Arnold suggested that he not return to his seat yet, to save time, but stay close at hand in case of more awards.  David won a few more before the assembly was ended.

An accomplished student, he was also inclined to mischief and usually had The Big Indian and me along in tow.  One evening we were in the Dairy Queen, which then was the Pawhuska equivalent of the In Place, that or the pool hall, but girls couldn't go in the pool hall then except for a moment to rescue a wayward husband or boy friend.  We were listening to music and probably drinking a Coke and smoking cigarettes when Bobby Lovelace came in.  Bobby was driving his father's Opel, a small four door car sold by Buick and imported from Germany.  It was a four cylinder engine with standard shift and it always sounded as though it were running too fast.  Bobby said hello, ordered and headed for the rest room and just then, one of us got the idea to see if we could put Bobby's Opel between two parking meetings.  The car was open (no one locked houses or cars in Pawhuska then) so one got in and steered and the other three of us pushed.  Somehow we got the Opel between two parking meters, congratulated ourselves and then we took off running.  I think we felt we had not done anything bad yet still, there was a nagging feeling that we should not be there.  We learned later that the police had been called and that it had taken more then twelve adult men to figure out how to get the Opel out, which in those days of heady rebellion was very satisfying to us.  We ran up the stairs across from the Dairy Queen (DQ), across the Osage Agency campus and, breathless, the four of us fell to the grass, laughing and joking.  Soon a squad car moved down Grandview Avenue with its spotlight falling on the grass, searching for--us?   We did not know but we assumed so, and one boy said "Cops!  Shut up everyone!" and we ceased laughing and lay in fear.  Jess Tomey rolled over on his lighted cigarette to prevent the light from showing.  We later gave him the coveted Church Key award for his heroism.  Try as I might today, I do not recall who the fourth boy was.  Not so long ago, David and I were in Pawhuska and we were talking about this adventure when he said, "You know, I think that was my idea to do that."  It might have been and now that the statue of limitations has expired and we are not likely to go to jail for this prank, any of us might claim the idea's origin.  That night, we were all, frankly, too scared to claim it and we would have been happy to have shared it with anyone. 

One other small and crazy thing was the club of Blowflies International.  This club did not really exist but Charley Edgar had acquired some felt hats which had been soaked in vinegar and stretched.  He may have gotten those from Bill White too since Bill had one.  These were regular hats but with the top stretched into a tall cone.  All of us had one, Jess, David, Charley, I and a few others and someone coined the name Blowflies International.  We were seen about town in these really stupid hats and we said we were recruiting members.  We did not know that Charley was writing a journal, complete fiction, but he wrote about the Blowflies and the conspiracy in an entirely fictional account but the more he wrote the more he got caught up in it.  And then, Charley had an unfortunate evening and he was picked up by the police, taken to the jail and left in the drunk tank overnight.  But one of the policemen had the journal and was reading it, which actually had a couple of them believing we had an international conspiracy.  You must understand that things were slow in Pawhuska from time to time.  Today, there are few of us who were Brothers of the International Society of Blowflies who remain and the world today, is safe from us; probably due to the efforts of The Red Avenger (an inside joke).

One year David came into the Dairy Queen and told Jess and me that he had been at Indianapolis, Indiana for the Indianapolis 500 motor race.  He forgot to tell any of us that he was going and to invite us.  That was probably good since Jess and I had problems raising more than $5.00 at any a time.  David told us about going, sleeping in car, being in line for days to get tickets.  With our lust for cars and speed at sixteen, his story had a profound effect upon us.  We were jealous, no doubt, yet in some strange way, he seemed larger than us then, a folk heroic since most of us had no idea exactly where Indianapolis lay.  We knew it was far; that's all.

All of that is fun and history but David was a very serious Christian and he talked about it with me.  I hate to say it but David and I attended too many funerals together.  But it gave us time to talk and about very serious matters, such as life and death.  I knew he had had cancer of the throat and I saw signs; I heard his raspy, barely audible voice and when we spoke on the telephone, at times it was a struggle to hear him.  I knew he had had cancer but we never talked about that.  I didn't ask and he didn't tell, and perhaps we should have talked about it, but maybe it was just too hard; for him and or me. 

I received a note from him one day with the worst possible news.  The Big Indian, Jess Paul Tomey, had died in West Virginia and I immediately called David and we talked about Jess.  Jess was larger than life and for all his troubles, we always expected him to win, whatever than means.  I think we thought he would endure, possibly even prevail.  We were both very quiet, very sad and we talked about Jess. David's voice was so quiet then, yet I heard every word.  It was monumentally sad yet we ended in laughter as we recalled to each other the life of Jess Paul. 

David leaves us with many classmates, schoolmates, friends and admirers.  He leaves us with his two children Dawn and Dusty and the memories we will share for some time to come.  We miss you now, David, and so we will, for years to come.  God bless you David Meriable.

Stevie Joe Payne


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