A front-page story in my local newspaper today detailed the DUI/manslaughter charges against a 38-year-old man in a nearby community. His life undoubtedly changed forever when he opted to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck and drive drunk. The driver of the car he hit head-on is dead, several others in another involved vehicle are injured.
1966-1968 were my hell-raising years. A college drop-out pumping gas at a local Gulf station, I was entirely rudderless. My day consisted of working my 3-12 shift, getting together with buddies after work, buying a couple six packs at a bar which accepted my bogus ID (I was 18 and the legal age in Pennsylvania was 21) and heading out to a few favorite spots in the woods where we weren’t bothered by the law. We all thought we were so cool, and we thought we were having fun. Didn’t matter that I lived about 25 miles from my party spots, and I had to drive frantically to get home before daylight when Grandpa got up to start the farm chores. Mom had already left for work and several times we passed on the winding country road leading to my home. Several ‘alcohol – related’ mishaps did not deter me from my nightly adventures.
Nobody could talk any sense to me, “Aww hell”, I would lament, “just out with buddies having a few beers.”
In later years with a bit of sobriety behind me, I was told that angels were riding with me on those tire-screeching, engine-roaring trips back to the house. “No,” I replied, “it was God Himself riding with me, my angels were too scared.”
So, you are asking what this has to do with my Uncle Willard. First let me say that the front-page story in the Sunbury Daily Item back in 1966-68 could have been a story with my name and my picture detailing the underaged drinking and DUI/manslaughter charges against a good boy just having a few beers with his buddies,
Uncle Willard was one of 10 children, my father Paul being the oldest. Due to family dysfunction, I did not meet Willard until one summer afternoon as I was finishing up on chores behind the barn. I was probably 18 years old. A car drove by, the driver tooted its horn and then turned around and returned to park along the highway. The man who emerged was unknown to me.
He civilly introduced himself as “Willard, your dad’s brother. I’m your uncle.” (No, at age 17-18 I did not know any of my father’s family). “I heard you wrecked your car last week, are you OK? “
He then proceeded into an ass-chewing that would have made any Army drill sergeant or Navy petty officer proud. Attaboy, Willard, you tell it how it is. I was speechless, but I knew dang well that I deserved every word and more.
He had his say, shook my hand, patted me on the back saying, “Straighten up, son, before you kill someone.”
That’s my Uncle Willard story – the only time we ever spoke.