Life has its challenges, and for some, the challenges are harder than for others. This is true for author David Crow. He overcame a difficult and abusive childhood. Using the power of forgiveness, he goes on to succeed in life. David Crow joined Hanna and Cari on the College Talks & More podcast to discuss his memoir, “The Pale-Faced Lie“. In the book, David discusses growing up on the Navajo Indian reservation with his idolized dad, his mentally ill mother, and three siblings. His father’s stories of his Cherokee heritage and World War II feats put him on a pedestal until David discovered the other side of his father Thurston Crow, who was an ex-con with his own code of ethics that justified cruelty, lies, and even murder.
I find it remarkable that after all your struggles, you found a way to graduate high school, go on to college, and become a businessman by starting your own firm. You even got married and are living a happy life now. Everybody struggles with something, but this book shows that it is never too late or too much for someone to handle. You can always turn your life around no matter what the circumstances are. Having an abusive criminal father, a childlike mother, learning, and medical issues did not stop our author, David Crow. He started out by giving a brief overview of himself and his life:
I was born nine months after my father got out of San Quentin for a crime that could’ve gotten him the death penalty. My older sister was born while he was in prison. He fled to the Navajo Indian reservation after he got out of prison. He did this for two reasons. The first reason was that you could lie about the criminal felony box if you came up with any recommendations. In the 50’s and 60’s, they were desperate for any kind of skilled labor. The second reason we went there is that my father really believed that his accomplice would try to kill him because my father betrayed him. My father wasn’t afraid of him but he was afraid of an ambush. Very early on, my first memories are of my dad saying, “We have to get rid of your mother, she’s crazy.” From that moment on, he tried to pull me into his criminal enterprise and that lasted all the way until the showdown part of this book.
The book has a very interesting title. Why did you decide to name your book, “The Pale-Faced Lie?”
We grew up on the Navajo Indian reservation, which was the largest in the country and my father developed this psychopathic idea that we were Cherokees. This was our sister tribe, the Navajos, but the Cherokees were superior to everybody, all other Indians and all other people. That was my father’s persona. So I grew up believing that we were Cherokees and living on a reservation that would like us because we’re all connected Indians. The book will take you through a series of lies that are like peeling an onion. I discover lie after lie at age four and all the way until I’m 27, when the book ends. There are many, many lies, but of those lies, it’s my journey of thinking I’m an Indian.
How did you cope with everything that went on between your mother and father?
I coped by getting the heck out of the house. From the second I was old enough to walk or run, I was out of the house. From the moment I could leave until the moment I had to come back, I would run very, very hard every day. I’m told now that running creates a lot of endorphins and helps fight off depression. The other thing was, even though I’m dyslexic and nearsighted, I put a fanatic amount of energy into reading, which was something I could escape to. I ran as an escape, I read as an escape, and I tried to get to know my Indian neighbors, everything about the reservation, and I would talk to anybody who would talk to me. That was my escape.
It’s very understandable that you just wanted to get out of the house. What kind of crimes did your father commit where you had to help him?
Where my dad and I really built our relationship was stealing very expensive tools on the reservation. My father worked for the Bureau of Indian affairs, and he had access to all of the warehouses all over the West of the reservation. The Navajo reservation is bigger than West Virginia, which was about 200,000 people, so you could drive 150 miles and scarcely see a person on some parts of the reservation. These warehouses were spread out all over the reservations, and he would steal just enough tools from each of them thinking no one would notice. Then, we would drive to the Porter town of Gallup, New Mexico, which plays a big role in the book. He would fence the tools or sell them to these Mexican businessmen. We spent most of our weekends stealing tools with my father explaining to me that every rule on the reservation is nothing but a hypocritical lie and stealing from people who stole from them is just getting even. Also in those conversations, I began to learn about San Quentin. I learned what a maximum security prison was like, all his fellow prisoners, and his cellmates. Then he gradually told me about some murders he had committed. He was always self righteously defending his own good morals and character, but I grew to realize he was a very violent man and that’s the reason he was sent to a maximum security prison.
On that note, to your knowledge, how many murders did your father commit?
He told me about one when he was in the Navy. Some guy insulted him in New Orleans on short leave. At two or three in the morning behind some bar, he beat a man to death. He told me that he killed a couple of guys in San Quentin who attacked him. I know that he had a very brutal time there that’s described in the book. Then as I got older, when we moved from the reservation to Washington DC and high school, he had a job with a Senator who wound up losing his election and he wanted to kill the Senator because the Senator wasn’t willing to call any favors to help him. During all of our discussions, I would learn that he had killed people that he felt like he deserved to kill, but there’s one particular incident before the showdown that really stands out. When I was a junior in the University of Maryland, my father had left my stepmother and at this point, he was living with an 18 year old Indian woman from the Blackfeet Indian reservation. He was involved in another tool and fencing scam in West Virginia. Apparently, some things went wrong. The woman my dad was living with, Caroline, called me a couple of times at school and said, “I think your dad may have killed somebody. Somebody may be trying to kill him. They’re calling and hanging up on us. Also, your father disappeared for six days and no one’s heard from him.” So these types of events went on and then on one critical day, I got a call that I had to drive five hours to West Virginia and meet him at a truck stop. I then followed him and two men in the dark on a one lane dirt road. They pulled a human body out of the trunk that was wrapped in a tarp and they buried it. My job was to take my dad home and drop him off. We got into a huge fight and I said, “I could very well be aiding and abetting a murder. I don’t know what you’re doing, but it smells like human blood to me.” We got in a giant fight and it was during that fight that we were screaming at each other for an entire five hours. I told him, “I have nothing to do with you. You’re sick and this is crazy. I feel certain you didn’t bury a deer or something. This really has to be murder.” He just started into how everybody commits murder, the army commits murder, presidents commit murder, the CIA commits murder, and my father commits murder. That was the most in depth conversation we ever had. He had a bloody duffel bag in the backseat of my car and he got out. For the first time in my life, I really physically challenged him. I just stood face to face and said, “We’re done. I have to turn you in. If I had any courage at all, I’d go call and turn you in.” He then grabbed me by the throat and said, “I own you. You’ll do whatever I tell you to do.” We had some very brutal moments. There are others described in the book that your readers will see, where my father revealed himself when I was smart enough or lucky enough to interject a question. When he got in his angry mode, his blood vessels would bulge out on his forehead and his eyes bugged out like a frog. He would start telling me about things. Eventually, the stories made sense because I was able to connect them. When he got into a rage, he’d always explain that sometimes people just have to get taken out. That’s a part of the code. So I was able to push pieces together of a few things that he did that were of a violent nature.
That’s pretty unbelievable and it took a lot of courage to stand up to a man like that. In the beginning of the book, you mention that your father says quite a few times when you were young, that your family needed to get rid of your mother. Eventually, your family does leave her. How did you manage to live with the guilt?
One of the biggest incidents in the book was when my very mentally ill and fragile mother was abandoned in a house that we rented in Gallup, New Mexico. We turned off the electricity, water, took all of the food, and left her a note that said, “We don’t want you. We’re leaving.” I did not know at that moment, but my father cut both my mom’s brake tubes on her car. Gallup, New Mexico is built into a small mountain so not only is it near Indian land, but it’s where coal land is. There are nothing but steep hills all around that house and he thought she would hit her brakes, get hit and die. It broke my heart that we abandoned her, and I just didn’t know what to do. I felt broken inside but about a week later, my dad moved us to a spot on the reservation, about 25 miles away from that house. A week later, he drove me back to Gallup, and we sat in front of the house that we just abandoned. I think he expected to read or hear that my mother was dead, because the brakes failed and she got killed, but he hadn’t heard that news. He didn’t have any idea where she was. So we sat in front of the house for over an hour with binoculars. Finally, he says, “You have to go inside and see if she’s there.” Of course, it’s the last thing I wanted to do, but he hit me. I went in, crept through the stairs, and up the back through the basement because nothing was locked. In the corner of an empty living room was my mother. There were some dirty clothes piled in the middle and one thin mattress that’s stained, which is what he left her. As I stared at her, I could see her face and eyes, but she didn’t know I was there. It was like the face of that woman on the National Geographic page, where you just see complete and total hopelessness. At 10 years old, I knew that I had seen complete hopelessness. There was a vacant near dead look, and I started shaking and crying. Finally, she realized I was there and she got up, came over to me, and hugged me with the strength of an NFL linebacker. She said, “Please don’t leave me. Don’t abandon me. Don’t leave me like this.” At that point, my dad knew I’d been gone too long and he came up behind me, shoved her to the floor, hit me, dragged me to the car and said, “You’ll never be much of a man. You’re not a man. You’re a little coward mama’s boy.” He drove me back to my brothers and sisters on the reservation. I kept that moment to myself for 45 years until I began to write this book. The guilt, shame, and hurt did break me. To get rid of the guilt, which is described in the book, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I could never tell my wife, my kids, or anybody what I had witnessed and, in my mind, participated in that day.
Did you ever confront your dad about his behavior and abuse towards your mother, your sisters, your brother, and yourself. Did you ever confront your mom about her failure to be your mother?
Whenever I hear from people who are critical of me, they say I didn’t do it sooner in life. What happened, when I was 55, I would travel from my Washington DC office to clients all over the country. I got to fly a lot and I would always rent a car in Albuquerque, drive it to Gallup, and sit in front of that house. I knew that house held the key to what was broken inside me. Every three or four months, I’d make a trip out and drive all over the reservation, but I’d sit in front of that house. One day when I was doing that, a man came out of the house, knocked on the car window and said, “Hey, you’re stalking me. Why do you keep showing up in different cars and just staring at this house?” So I said, “I was a little boy and left this house.” I told him when I lived there and he said, “I don’t believe you. The kid that was here couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.” I said, “Yeah, that was 45 years ago.” Long story short, he invited me into the house. He was a widower who was a very nice man. He worked for the city of Gallup as a widower and had two kids that moved away. He brought me up into the house and made me a meal. It was 4:00 in the afternoon and we talked about everything until 2:00 AM. It was like an explosion out of a fire hydrant, and I told him every single thing that ever happened. He listened and listened and at the end of that, he said, “You’ve finally gotten this off your chest. You’re at a new beginning. Don’t lose this chance since you’ve never told anybody.” I went back to the hotel I was staying at, and since it’s earlier in the West than the East, I woke up and about 7:00 AM and called my father. I got him on one ring and said, “Did it ever bother you what you did to our mother and all four of your children?” He cut me off and said, “You are a no good SOB. You’re a coward. You never did what I wanted you to do. I knew you would never be much of a man.” I called my mother and after a few rings, she picked up and I said, “Did this ever occur to you? You asked me to be the head of the house at 10, save you, stand up to my father, and earn a living so you didn’t have to live on welfare. You should have never put that burden on a kid.” She said, “You never were the son you should have been. You’ve never protected me. You have a lot to feel guilty about, and this is on you.” At that minute, I began the journey to forgive them and I also forgave myself. One of the things I learned is that when we seek forgiveness, we always hope or expect that the person we’re asking acknowledges what they did, says they’re sorry in a meaningful way, and then there’s healing. When you grow up in a situation like mine, and I don’t think I’m alone, you get people that are really mentally ill and everything’s about them. They blame you, and it’s always going to be your fault. You tell them they need to forgive themselves or forgive you. I realized that I had to forgive them, and I had to understand that there would never be any sort of satisfaction or justice from them. Once I really understood that, the journey to healing began.
I couldn’t imagine a father or mother saying that to their son, but I am glad that it started your forgiveness process.
Yes, and one of the things I learned is that, there are better people than me, great books, and therapists, but when I’m talking about my book personally, I would run into various people and they’d be crying. They would say they’ve read a part of my book that made them cry, and I’d always ask them what part made them cry. Then, they would tell me everything that happened to them, like sexual abuse, physical abuse, and more. I would ask them, “Have you been able to forgive that person?” They would say no because they hate that person. I said, “I get that. What they did was terrible, but you’re carrying this around with you like it happened five minutes ago.” You can forgive what is unforgivable by simply saying to yourself, “I’m not a part of that anymore. I didn’t cause this and I can’t fix this.” One of the most powerfully negative things that a childhood like mine does to you is allow you to grow to believe that you did deserve it and you believe you can’t do better than that. I think that’s why a lot of cycles are repeated and are very negative and extremely hard to break. Once you break it, there’s a freedom that you never thought possible.
When did you start to figure out the truth about your dad, seeing that he made himself out to be something he wasn’t? Did learning the truth about your dad help or hinder you in your forgiveness process?
I have a good answer for you, but it’s not quite that. I knew from age four, five, and six that when Dad raised his chest up and his voice got loud, he was making stuff up. The way he told the stories began to give me an inkling to the truth, so I was able to tell when he was lying. Another thing is that I would listen with my good right ear to my parent’s door late at night. I was always a mischievous sleuth so I would crawl up and hear them talk. There were several themes that occurred. Some of the themes were Dad being in San Quentin and not being able to tell us kids that tried to kill a man or maybe did kill a man. They kept repeating these themes. When I asked Dad, “Did you eat a bologna sandwich today?,” or “Did you get a promotion?,” I would get an honest answer. If you ask him anything about his past, particularly about his heritage, I could tell he was lying, but I couldn’t piece together the truth. When you’re a kid you want to believe your family and believe they are telling the truth. I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of us, but one of the most consequential things that happened in my life was when I was in college. I dropped out because I was going through some things, so I went back to the reservation and got a job in construction. I was 19 or 20 and I kept going back to my little hometown of Fort Defiance. One of my seven angels in life was a code talker, Navajo engine gentlemen, who was my four H teacher, and little league baseball coach. His son was my best friend, so one day I went by the house and his wife said, “My husband wants to talk to you.” So I went out and talked to him in the backyard and he said, “You’re not an Indian. Your dad’s not an Indian. You don’t belong here. Your umbilical cord wasn’t buried on the reservation. You got a lot of Indian kids here. They’re gonna drink themselves to death or do manual labor, but you’re not from here, get out and don’t come back.” I loved this guy and he was a mentor. He was the kind of friend that what he said was incredibly powerful. It was mean but when I later realized he was giving me a good dose of tough love, I didn’t come back until I graduated from college. Then I came back only as a visitor. So it was like gradually peeling an onion. Did I confront my Dad? I did, once. He and I went through several different things. One time, he never spoke to me for like 12-15 years, then towards the end of his life, he needed me. One of the things I did that day was confront him about this whole Indian thing. As old as he was, he got so upset. I thought he was gonna have a stroke right on the spot. So I said, “Okay, I’ll never bring it up again.” Another thing I did was bring up what he had done to his accomplice that helped him commit the crime. I said, “You destroyed this man’s life.” I went and connected with his son, who knew nothing of the San Quentin business. He and I are friends now. I said to my dad, “I just want you to know your accomplice died. He was never able to earn more than a dollar and 85 cents an hour. You destroyed a family.” I thought my father was going to die and he just screamed at me, “Get the hell out of my house.” I said, “I’m the only one of your poor kids that talks to you, and I’m your medical guardian. If you never want to talk to me again, that’s fine. But you need to think this over. If you need me, then let me know. And if you don’t, that’s fine too.” So the next day he called me and said, “Come over. Don’t ever bring any of this up again.” At that point, he would tell me prison stories. He would tell me all kinds of things, as long as I didn’t ask him what he did.
That’s really interesting. You talk in your book so much about negative stuff in your childhood. Were there any good times or positive memories that you have from your childhood?
I think like all bad families, there are good moments, but most of the moments were out of the house. I made a wide variety of friends and my three Navajo friends that I met when we were toddlers are still my best friends. There were a lot of families that would let me come over, eat dinner with them, and stay for a while. Also, there were days where my dad was in a good mood, and no one had knocked the chip off his shoulder yet. He didn’t feel overly inferior at that moment. Any little incident could just trigger a massive reaction, but he had a good day if he got eight hours of sleep, good food, and nothing bothered him. He hadn’t walked out the door yet to face the world that was going to make him mad. He would tell stories and he was incredibly smart, maybe the smartest person I’ve ever known. He didn’t have formal education, but he read everything and expected me to as well, so we could have a conversation. He would ask, “Who do you think was greater: Galileo, Christ, or Sir Isaac Newton?” He would also ask, “Do you want to know how Arizona and New Mexico formed 5 million years ago?” Dad and I played intellectual information games and if I read something he hadn’t read, that was a red letter day for me. All of our enjoyment was about that mental sparring where he thought I could be somewhat equal, but if anything made him mad, that just dissolved.
Your dad sounds like a very complicated and explosive person.
One of the stories, and there are thousands of them, was when Dad and I came back from a tool stealing adventure on a late Saturday afternoon in the summer. There was a bar called the Navajo Inn that was a half mile off the Navajo Indian reservation into Arizona. At the time, it was the largest single beer and wine distributor in both states. Not only was it not a town, it was a warehouse that was a packaged liquor store, but they served so much alcohol there that they actually sent full trucks from California loaded with wine, beer and everything. The Navajo Inn was extremely notorious and on any given day, there’d be four or five dead people lying on the street or the sidewalk. In winter, when it was really cold, their lips would be blue and they were known as popsicles, which is not nice, but dead bodies in Navajo were popsicles. We came around this corner where the Navajo Inn was, and we were looking at these beautiful rocks, which are found in both states. There was a truck with a BIA license tag and it was hit with this rock called a haystack, which was gigantic so the windshield shattered. One of my dad’s jobs was a safety officer so if he came across any fatality, he had to record it. He said, “I’m going to pull over and write this up. Don’t get out of the car.” I sat there and then finally curiosity killed me. I looked at the windshield that was completely gone, and I saw a headless torso up over at the top of the steering wheel. I think to myself, “Well, it’s sunny and I wear glasses. There’s a reflection. I’m not seeing this right.” So I got out against his orders, ran to the front, and there was a decapitated head with long braided hair and I saw Dad writing all this up. I started throwing up and my dad said, “Oh my God, you’re a little sissy. I told you not to get out of the car.” So he picked up the head by the ponytail, put it inside the truck, wrote it up and, as we were driving along, and I was just beyond mortified and sick. He said, “Look, this is life. You gotta face it. Everybody studies alcoholism on the reservations. These bars are open 7:00 AM to 2:00 AM, seven days a week. This is just one gigantic hypocrisy, and guys are going to kill themselves and just get over it.” So we were quiet with each other for a couple of minutes or a couple of miles. Then he stopped his car again. This time we weren’t near anything, we were just in pure desert land and about 30 miles from home. He got out of the car and he went to his trunk to get a bag of water with a bowl and some beef jerky. He said, “Follow me.” We started walking and saw a coyote had been caught in a trap because they eat sheep and goats and, in Navajo culture, the coyote is evil. There’s nothing good about a coyote. My dad got to this bear trap that they used to catch him, and his paws were caught in it so he couldn’t get out. My dad walked behind him, wrapped a towel around his jaw so he couldn’t bite, used his other hand, and pulled open that trap, which had to take a lot of strength. The coyote got out and then my dad put down a bowl of water and jerky. He said, “Carefully walk back. He’s angry and he’ll attack if you confront him.” So the coyote ate the jerky, drank the water, and began to limp off. My dad said, “Killing animals is wrong. It’s always been wrong. The coyotes just did what God or nature sent him to do.” Then he said, “Stop and look around. 4.6 million years ago, this was an ocean. 3.6 million years ago, it was a volcano.” He described all of the geological things, petrified wood, and all of it. For about 45 minutes, I was just his student, and I frequently could be in the greatest classroom in the world. He turned to me and said, “If you don’t know these things, the English classics, the great authors, science, geography, and all of it, you’re no better than that coyote.” We got in the car and drove home. It was a typical day with him. He went from stealing all these tools, remarkable anger, justifying bad things because bad things happen to him and the Indians, and then to this act of compassion with an animal and a description of the geology of the area we grew up in. It was just breathtaking. That was what it was like to be with my dad. You could face all those things in the same hour.
That is horrible, but interesting all at the same time. Throughout the book, there are many people who told you that you wouldn’t amount to anything, but a small handful encouraged you to succeed. Who are the people that helped you turn your life?
I owe my angels (and I call them my angels) more than I could ever pay them back. My first angel was an 80 year old Navajo woman. We were living in a part of the reservation in the town of Fort Defiance, where whites are simply not allowed. There are two gated communities in that town. One community was for the doctors and nurses who usually stayed two years then they went back. The other community was for the teachers, which frequently did the same thing. They were in barbed wire and completely enclosed so that nothing, and no one, could get to them. We lived in a part where you’re not supposed to live, so walking back and forth to school with tremendous beatings everyday was horrible. There was a woman across the street from us in what I described as mud flaps, because when it rained, the whole thing was just mud, beer cans, wine, feces, pee, you name it. The Navajo woman walked over, knocked on the door, and said, “I see that you children are alone. Maybe I can help.” She became my best friend and my confidant. I would cry and tell her bad things that had happened, and she would kiss me on the forehead and say, “Learn hozho (the Navajo word for harmony)”. She told me stories about her grandmother, age 4, who walked back and forth from the long walk, where they were slaughtered, and put in prison and walked back four years later. She told me that her mother and her grandmother learned to forget. She learned to forget. No matter what I told her, she said, “First, you have to forgive it. Then you have to move on from it.” I was way too young to take that lesson, but she was my first unconditional love. She made sure I started my homework, and cooked some food because my dad wasn’t around that much. She guided me and gave me my first marker that you could be loved by somebody that doesn’t want something back from you. So, Evelyn was my first angel. My next angel was the Navajo code talker man, who was the father of one of my best friends. He taught me 4-H, and we would buy sheep, feed them, and sell their wool. He would constantly give me tough love. He loved me, but I was a gigantic pain in his neck and I was always doing crazy stuff. One day, he and his wife sat me down and said, “Look, you can always come to our house when you get beat up. We see the bruises and marks, but you have to follow our rules when you’re here.” It was my first sense of what a family could be. They were poor, with 11 kids and not enough money. They lived in one long room, but they left a blanket and a pillow for me at the very end, so if I got beaten badly or had nowhere to go, I could crawl to the end and go to sleep. Those were my first two angels and there were five more angels throughout the book. Every one of the angels gave me what I needed at a time that I really needed it and I owed them everything.
Now let’s get personal. We are all wondering if you are still in touch with your siblings, and what kind of a relationship do you have with them now?
I figured you would ask that, and that’s a good question. It’s a question that, as you get older, people get uncomfortable asking, but it’s a good question. So when I first started writing this book, they were very resentful. They said things like, “No. Hell no, don’t do it. Leave me alone.” I kept persisting, and I didn’t make much headway with them. After I got the first draft completely done, I went to my niece who works with me and I said, “I want you to read those chapters to your mother.” My oldest sister is very smart, but she blocked everything out. There are years at a time that she doesn’t even remember where she lived. She’s a professor of education and she’s very bright, but she just blocked it. I said, “Read this to your mom and ask if I have permission.” Her mom would cry and stick a thumb up, and I knew that I could write it. My big sister was always my marker for, “Can I write this?” I went to my younger brother, and he said, “You’re making everything up. None of this is true. Why do you lie? Leave me alone.” So I sent him a transcript and said, “I am delighted for you to correct all my mistakes, just name them.” He couldn’t name any of them, but he stayed mad at me until after the book was published, and we gradually got back together. My younger sister hasn’t spoken to any of us in years. These kinds of childhoods do incredible damage, and there is no happy ever after. All four of us had very tumultuous adult lives because of the things that happened, and when you grow up like this and you leave, it doesn’t leave you. You’ve got to consciously and aggressively undo the damage, which is not easy. It wasn’t easy for any of us, and I still believe that my younger sister and younger brother live in complete denial. I love them, and I changed their names in the book, but I did not change a single fact or anything based on their complaints. I think they’re okay with me, but the four Crow children will never get together at one time. That is for certain.
I’m happy to hear that you’re still talking.
My older sister and I became close through one of her grandchildren. My great niece has had cancer for almost seven years, so I’ve been helpful there. My niece, who’s in her very early thirties, works for me now. So I have created an opportunity for her that she wouldn’t have had, and we’re very close. My sister’s grateful, and she’s a good big sister, but she was at the front end of all this and she had sexual things happen to her. I think she’s proud of the fact that the book’s done well and that I’m okay. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but she’s okay with it. We’re closer than we probably ever have been. I think helping her family and her daughter with career stuff has helped. She knows that I’ll be there for her. I visit my younger brother in Colorado, and we have dinner. Also, our wives know each other well enough to be friends. We’re careful about the past, but we’re in a good place. I text him every day about something, like everything from football, to asking if his kids can go back to school. So I’m working at it. My younger sister is really angry and bitter. I don’t know how that comes out, but all of us are open to her coming around. So I’m trying, I would never cut them off or anything like that.
I’m curious, do you or any of your siblings still talk to your mom?
I do. My mom’s almost 90, and she is the angriest, most bitter human being I’ve ever known. She married a guy after my dad who was really a good guy. He was a very gentle truck driver and was able to get a son, which is a tricky story, but she has a son who’s an adult now. We talk about every other day and it’s just pure anger. I’ll say, “You’re the only one of them still alive. You’ve got a nice house. You’ve got good food. You’ve got air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. You’ve got a son that lives nearby. You’ve got people who love you. I call you almost every day.” She is just angry and bitter. What she wants you to do is agree with her that her life is the worst life ever lived and you should feel sorry. I will do that to a point. What she went through was brutal, but she had a nearly 50 year marriage with her next husband who died at 91. I’ll just say, you’ve got to let this go, but she cannot. The hardest thing I do everyday is talking to her. I dread it and I hate it. Some part of me says, “How can a person live to be almost 90 and have never had a happy day or a happy thought and still stay alive?” That’s a question I can’t answer because I probably have to talk to her today. I’ve never heard her laugh, never heard her talk about music, or anything. It’s always about her, and how she suffered more than anybody. I always tell her, “I love you, Mom. I’ll listen to you. It’s okay.” Sometimes she’ll say, “I feel like all I do is complain to you,” and I tell her it’s okay. I visit her a couple of times a year and I hate that worse than the calls. She’ll grab onto me and sit next to me and say, “Don’t ever leave me.” I say, “You know, Mom, if I move back and do my job, I call you. I’ll come visit you again. I’m not leaving you,” but she’s like a super angry five-year-old that feels like life is just dumped on her with 85 more years tacked onto that and nothing changes it. Both parents were enigmas. My stepmother was just pure evil. I understood her from the start, but I don’t know what it would do to take my mom to have a happy thought. She just can’t.
In the book, you describe having hearing, vision, and dyslexia issues.
Yes, I do. On an Indian reservation, they’ll push you through school if you are breathing. I was in the first integrated school on the Navajo Indian reservation and believe me, they had big trouble. All these kids were the children of people stuck in these boarding schools, where they shaved your head, washed your mouth out with soap, told you your religion was pagan nonsense, and made you speak English, no Navajo. They were mean and they hit them with rulers. These were Franciscan nuns, on the reservation, trying to kill the Indian to save the man. So I was behind, and I knew it, but nothing was ever done or said. Then I got into late high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the schools are much stronger in terms of education standards and resources. I was so far behind, that in some classes, I never even did anything. It was the extreme opposite of the boarding school. This was the late sixties, so it was about peace and love. They just sort of shoved me through again. They were going to fail me out, but my track coach, my next angel, loved me and got me through that. He got me a diploma. He just said, “Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but try to do better.” I could never see or hear well and with dyslexia, there are a lot of moments that I don’t react on time when I hear things, but if I read anything, I can memorize it. I learned to use a playful personality and intense concentration to gradually get through. The thing that saved me is I read everything, and I could remember what I read. Now that won’t help you with math, chemistry, or any of those things, but I got by. At the end of my high school, I went back to the reservation to work in construction. I came back and I walked into Montgomery Community College on the first day of class. I walked into the Dean of Students office and I told the secretary, “I need to see him.” She asked, “Who are you? Do you have an appointment?.” I said, “No, but he’s going to want to know David Crow. He will demand to know me.” So she walked back and said, “You’ve got some wise guy out here.” He invited me in and his name was Dr. Herman Davis and he’s my fourth angel. He said, “What can I do for you?” I said, “I’ve got a small mirror and a high school diploma.” I breathed on the mirror and said, “The moisture shows that I’m alive, that I have respiration. The high school diploma says, ‘you’ve got to take me.’” Well, he burst into laughter. He thought that was the funniest thing he ever heard. He got me into his office and his secretary was furious. He signed me up for all the classes, and we became friends. I knew then that I was on the lowest rung of the lowest ladder. All of the people who said I would amount to nothing would be right if I didn’t get into college. For the first time in my life, even though I worked different jobs, I was on their track team. I even made all American my first year. I knew that I had to do well there no matter how bad it hurt. My eyes hurt so bad that I tried to wear contact lenses, eye glasses, and frames that were thicker than Coke bottles, but I never stopped. If I had to stay up until 3:00 AM to get a lesson done, I did it. I just knew there was no net after that. My dad kicked me out after high school, and I was glad to be kicked out, but I had to make it and so I did. From that moment on, I went to night school for almost 10 years at George Washington University, The University of Maryland, and Georgetown University. I just worked and tried as hard as I could in my job. I had opened doors that I was able to get through and I never gave up. I’m still not giving up.
In the book, you and Sam would often have fun throwing fireworks at drunks and pranking people. Do you still like to prank people and do you still like fireworks?
I love fireworks, but I have a wife that’s on to all my games and there are no fireworks. I have to watch them like everybody else. I still love pranks and things, but not mean pranks. I always joke with people or do silly things. I think my criminal activities are behind me and what might’ve been funny on the reservation or in Gallup, New Mexico is probably not very funny now. I have to say, as much as everything went wrong as a kid, I had a lot of mischievous fun, and if you read the book, you can see it. I did every crazy thing that everybody imagined and mostly got away with it.
I found some of the things that you did to your teachers hysterical. Not that I can condone it, but it was definitely funny. I would have been laughing if I was in that class.
Good. There’s dark humor throughout the book, but there’s dark humor throughout my life. I’m known for it.
Would you make this book into a movie, and has anyone approached you about it? I think it would make a really great movie. I’d be the first one there watching it.
I have offers on the table now, and I think as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, we could make a movie. I have two really substantial offers that I’m pursuing. The other thing is a very large book company in Russia, EKSMO, had just purchased the book for sales in Russia. I also have an agent looking at other countries that want to publish it.
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about your book?
The most important lesson is that you can be in a place that you think is so bad. You can’t get out, and you can be emotionally distraught to the point where you cannot see a path forward. If you wake up every day and try to be better than you were the day before and open yourself up to the world in a positive light, there will be benefits that you can’t imagine. I would simply say it’s a cliche, but it’s true. Never give up and never believe anybody who says you’re too _______ (you can fill in the adjectives and verbs) and you won’t make it. I always believed somehow and some way I would make it. If I ever stopped believing that, I would be a toothless guy, pumping gas on an Indian reservation if I was still alive. I’ve mentored 230 college kids, who do internships in my lobbying business, and feel free to contact me if you have anybody at your book company that wants to do this. I’ve got friends all over the world now and certainly lots of author friends. I had a terrible time when I was 20 years old to 50 years old. I struggled with everything, but I never quit. So that’s what I want my readers to know. It can really sound like you can’t get through it, but if you have 10 problems, there’s really only one solution. Then you have to work to get through it.
I’m just curious. What did your wife think about your book after not knowing all of your secrets, and then you writing a book about them? Will there be a followup book to continue your journey after college?
Those are good questions. So I unfortunately went through a divorce and remarriage, but I’ve been very happily married for almost 15 years. My wife did not really want me to do this right. She wasn’t for it, my kids weren’t for it, and my siblings weren’t for it. At some point, I had to decide that I could prove to them that they were wrong about not wanting this book, and that there were very good reasons for me to write this book. They’ve all come around. All of them have, and they realize this is a good thing. My brothers-in-law, my sisters-in-law, and my friendship circle has been incredibly supportive. I’ve had clients buy 50 books at a time and ask me to come give a talk. I’ve given a lot of talks on the book. I already do a bunch on politics anyway, which is what I’m trained to do. In terms of a sequel, I won’t write one because that involves my children. It also involves everybody in my life now, beyond my siblings and my mother. I’ve got a deal to write three books about Gallup and the Navajo Indian reservation. If no one else would be hurt by a sequel, I would do it. I don’t believe I hurt anybody in the first book, but I believe I would hurt people in the second one. If your family’s mad at you, you’re not going to do very well so they’ve said absolutely no.
If I can only ask your readers one thing: If you liked the book, would you please go to Goodreads and Amazon and write a brief note. That really helps an author.
Please also support the author by purchasing his book, “The Pale-Faced Lie.” A portion of the proceeds goes towards Barrett house, a homeless shelter for women in Albuquerque.
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