‘My town spent years trying to figure out this man’s secret. One rumor was Dave was a secret millionaire. Others speculated he was mentally ill and homeless.’: Mom remembers what’s important in life thanks to mysterious man from childhood

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“Growing up in the town of Dothan, Alabama had its quirks, that’s for sure.

For one thing, we were the self-proclaimed ‘Peanut Capital of the World’. There was a golden peanut in the center of our town, and every year we crowned a new National Peanut Queen. And y’all, she was legit royalty.

Girls survived off rice cakes and Diet Coke for years trying to fit into that crown.

The truth is, I learned a lot about life in that strange and beautiful peanut farming town, but no lessons were as simple or profound as the one I learned from a man named ‘Dancing Dave.’

Dave was… well, an interesting character. He always dressed from head to toe in a sailor uniform, complete with black leather tap shoes and a special hat that simply said ‘Dave’.

He walked around town, tens of miles a day, on the dusty red shoulder of the road. Whenever somebody honked or waved, Dave would dance a little dance, then smile and tip his hat. I can close my eyes and recall that happy little shuffle. It makes my heart swell, even now.

Dave was a fairly old man, but that never stopped him from shining like the dang sun. He was captivating. The whole of Dothan spent years trying to figure out this man’s secret.

One rumor was that Dave was a secret millionaire whose heir was thrilled with his penniless lifestyle.

Another rumor was that Dave was a certified genius, who had learned all there was to know about life, and decided he found the most happiness dancing on the side of the street.

Others speculated that Dave was mentally ill and homeless. It didn’t seem likely, considering his sailor suit was starched and crisp.

Anyways, it’s ridiculous to speculate, but one thing was for sure: for twenty years or more, if your heart needed a smile and you were in Dothan, Alabama, all you needed to do was drive until you saw Dave.

He was more than happy to give you a smile for free.

Four years ago, I found out through social media that Dancing Dave had died. Dothan never did learn his secrets, whether he was rich or a genius or not.

But something happened when he died, and it taught me a lot about life.

You see, for at least a week after this mystery man passed away, Dothan natives mourned his loss.

We reminisced about his smile, his tap dancing, his joy. We swapped stories about the times we ate lunch with Dave, or drove him to his cousins house in the rain, or talked to him about getting a new pair of tap shoes (he always refused…said his beat up pair ‘clicked just right’).

It turned out, Dave’s money or intellectual brilliance or mysterious backstory never really mattered when it came to the end of his life.

What mattered was this: Dave left the world a better place—a more beautiful place—because he shared his joy indiscriminately.

Heres the thing, y’all. When we are 75 years old, I bet we won’t remember the names of half our Supreme Court justices. We won’t recall every Vice President of the administrations that came and went. I sure as heck won’t remember who Miss National Peanut was in 2002.

But I’ll always remember the smiling eyes of Dancing Dave: a humble man who walked the earth with a brilliant joy that touched everyone he ever met.

Go forth and share your joy today.

Fame, power, beauty, wealth…none of it has the power to impact change like your joy does.

Be like Dave.

Shine big, my friends.”

Man and woman stand on either side of this man named Dave who is famous in their town
Courtesy Mary Katherine Backstrom

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mary Katherine Backstrom. The article originally appeared here. Follow Mary on Instagram here.  Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

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