ST. PETERSBURG — Ed Goldberg shuffled between the rows of gravestones on Monday, his eyes searching.
He swore he knew where his little brother, Daniel Goldberg, was laid to rest. He thought it was around here, in a section of Bay Pines National Cemetery shaded by sprawling oak tree branches.
“’Scuse me,” said his longtime friend, Pattie Andersen. “What’s his middle name?”
“Charles,” answered Goldberg, 69.
Andersen typed it into her phone, hoping the website would spit out the numbers they needed: section, row, site. But her phone service was acting up. Andersen started down another row as Goldberg reminded her to look for the Star of David etched above his brother’s name, a different kind of north star.
They kept up the search, methodical and patient. The brothers had drifted apart before, but they found their way back to each other.
The Goldbergs grew up in Springfield, Mass., raised by an Army veteran stepfather who worked long days as a salesman and a restaurant manager mother who even now, at 90, can put together a 1,000-piece puzzle in a matter of days.
They did what boys did, fought and wrestled and tried dumb stunts like the time, just for kicks, the elder Goldberg threw himself out of a high window and broke both his feet and ankles, his little brother watching with horrified admiration. Goldberg’s classmates rarely knew him without a cast.
The brothers were part of a friend group known as The Circle, about 15 boys, give or take. The majority of them joined the Marine Corps, and the Goldbergs were no different. Ed walked to the recruitment office and enlisted in 1968 at 17 with the blessing of his parents’ signature. Danny joined a couple years after that.
In Vietnam, Ed drove a truck known as the Dear John Express because of all the breakup letters it carried. He watched Agent Orange wipe out trees like they were nothing. He feels it now, creeping through his own body, a slower takeover.
The brothers served their time and then settled on opposite ends of the East Coast, the elder Goldberg back in Springfield and the younger, tired of the snow, joined his mother and stepfather in Largo. Ed sold cars for a Ford dealership, 20 to 25 a month.
Danny, struggling with a host of medications his doctors put him on after his time in the military, stayed with friends, helped out his mom and hung out at the beach. He went through several years in and out of trouble with the law, court records show, and his brother said they both grappled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Then, in 2003, their stepfather died. Ed Goldberg, worn down from a particularly brutal winter, went to Florida for the funeral and never went back north. A few years later, he and his wife bought a house in New Port Richey on the ocean. “Well,” Goldberg catches himself, “it’s actually on a canal.”
The brothers were in the same place again, and their relationship warmed back up over ball games and fishing trips. When Danny asked Ed if he could stay with him, Ed answered with a resounding, “Of course.”
Danny moved in and promptly took over the family pets, whipping up breakfasts of eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and sausage for their pitbull-mix named Precious and renaming two out of three of the cats. (One became Taco, “because he loved tacos,” Andersen said, and the other Sally, “because he loved Sally Fields.” The third cat, Frank, kept his name. “I guess he liked it,” Andersen said with a shrug.)
Andersen had started working for Ed, cleaning his house and caring for his yard. On her lunch break, she and Danny would watch old game shows she can’t remember the names of now. Danny loved old TV: The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie.
By this point, his post-military treatment had made Danny wary of medicine. He stopped taking his medications and wouldn’t go to the doctor. So it came as a shock when, on an August day in 2016, Ed heard his little brother scream. By the time he got to him, Danny was slumped over the TV set. He died at 63 of a massive heart attack.
That’s what brought them here, beneath the oak trees, surrounded by hundreds of American flags flapping in the breeze, looking for that familiar name on the ground. Finally, using another phone, they found the numbers they were looking for: section 61, row 21, site 41. Ed Goldberg was right; it was around here, and he counted down the site numbers until he saw that Star of David, Daniel C Goldberg, “Gone but not forgotten.”
“I miss my brother,” Goldberg said, staring down.
“Me, too,” Andersen said.
Sometimes she still talks to her game show buddy while she’s trimming his favorite plant, a hibiscus bush with red flowers. Goldberg talks to him, too, all the time, in the house they once shared together. When asked what about, he paused for a moment.
“Everything,” he said.