Appreciation : David Flanders: a gift for friendship
David Flanders, who died last week, was the friendliest man I ever knew.
I met David when my friend Steve Parker took me to my first Sunday pick-up softball game at Mrs. Toomey's field in Chilmark. I was 14. David was, I now calculate, about 22, though he seemed older to me then. I didn't know anything about who he was or what he did, but I knew he could hit a softball a long way and he had an infectious enthusiasm that made the game fun for everyone.
Deep down the left field line was a grove of red pines. Few players ever hit a ball that rolled as far as the pine lot, but David, a big man with an incongruously high voice, put one in there on the fly about once a Sunday. He was the Hank Aaron of Chilmark softball. Long after he stopped playing, long after someone bought Mrs. Toomey's house and evicted the ball game, people remember those titanic blasts into the pine lot.
David was super competitive, but he was always modest about his own skills and encouraging of other players. It felt good to be on his team, because he made you know you were important when you did something good, and he bucked you up when you didn't. Like all ballplayers everywhere, David would tease the other side, but he was never mean, never really disrespectful. After all, an opponent in one game would often be a teammate in the next. Even when he warned his teammates about something you as an enemy player might do ("This man's got good power to right!"), it was a kind of compliment.
David made no distinctions. He welcomed the good players, poor players, summer residents, year-rounders, young men, old men, even women and children when they played (which in the 1950s was only when there weren't enough men). What was really important to him was how much fun we were all having.
The years go by and time overwhelms even memory, just as fir trees have overgrown Mrs. Toomey's field. I was never a close friend of David's, but through more than 50 years, I never encountered him when I didn't feel he was glad to see me, was ready to chat with me about whatever was on my mind or tell me what he was up to. Most people tell the same story. One could be cynical and say that David was a real-estate salesman looking for a client or a referral, but I don't think that was it at all. David genuinely enjoyed people, and if that made him a good salesman, it was not because he was calculating or insincere. It was as much his gift to be friendly as it was to hit home runs. Martha's Vineyard will be a poorer place without him.