The Next Step

After a turning point in my life




These are articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.

I was returning home from a large dinner that consisted of a large serving of spaghetti and a slightly smaller portion of pity, as a result, I am certain, from the preceding weeks of turmoil. It was hard to distinguish what it was that I hungered for. Up until a few days ago, each of my excursions had some one waiting for me at my destination, but this trip home from the diner was much longer than the trip going to the diner. It was like I was running headlong into a strong headwind; each movement of the steering wheel was met with the painful memory of the contorted sleeping arraignments of the previous three evenings, and both legs felt as if someone had poured sand in my socks, even my toes ached form four days in dress shoes.

It was a moonless night, and the new house was some distance in the country, and as I grew closer to the new home I noticed that it was getting more and more difficult to see the road well and I was grateful to finally see the red driveway reflectors that indicated the beginning of the driveway that wound it way back near the center of the 10 acres. After pulling the truck under the large oak tree just to the left side of the work shop I tried to turn on the dome light to look for the flashlight, but it was not working. Annoyed, I just got out of the truck and walked around it, in an attempt to determine the cause for the lack of light when it became apparent that I only had the driver’s side headlight that was functional, as both tail lights were gone as well.

I had finally had it! I shouted as loud as I could possible yell “God Damn it! You take my entire family and now you take all my fuckin’ lights too?” I was in a fit of rage with a capitol ‘R’. It was a chilly night, but I could feel my neck muscles flexing and I am sure the veins were drawing roadmaps in my neck.

I made several passes around the truck, stumbling around in what I thought was total darkness, expounding on my earlier serving of pity, and trying to make some sense of what was happening. I came to a halt about six feet straight out in front of the truck, and then it started to make a little sense to me. I had earlier in the week lost a wife and two daughters, preceded by the loss of another daughter somewhat earlier. I had just now discovered that I had lost one headlight, two tail lights and one dome light, but I was still standing in the light of the one remaining headlight and it was casting my shadow upon the trunk of a huge oak tree.

I was not alone! I had light! I had a companion! And I had strength! The rest of my life was up to me!

I carefully opened the truck door, turned the one remaining light off, and made my way in complete darkness towards the small three room cottage that was adjacent to the larger house that we had intended to live in. It seemed inappropriate this evening to go in the larger house that was intended to be a family dwelling, so I shuffled my way along the edge of the gravel driveway, listening for the sound of the gravel pieces scraping against each other as my shoes disturbed their chosen positions, being careful not to get off into the grass at the edge of a rather steep incline.

I stumbled my way to the door, and retrieving the keys from my pocket pulled open the tattered screen door and unlocked the main door. It was stuck and I had to nudge it to get it to open, and when it did it screeched like the best sound effect ever heard in a horror movie. The small ‘shotgun’ house had only two rooms downstairs and a lone bedroom upstairs. When making the final inspection thru this smaller house earlier in the week, I had noticed that there had been an old tattered and torn cloth covered couch against the far right wall, so I gingerly shuffled my way over towards it and ‘dropped and drifted’ until daylight.

Towards morning it got quite cold and I was glad that I had kept on my shoes and coat, but was still a little miffed that this was the condition in which I was starting the first day of my new life. I looked up and over the back of the couch and out the heavily painted window frame and onto the frost covered ground and noticed that the oak tree was still there, the head light looked good in the truck and knowing that my shadow was in my pocket, I stepped out side and the sun began to shine.

“I believe I can do it!”

So I began this Tuesday morning, two days before Christmas, by starting to put the things away that we had brought to the farm earlier in the week, only to be stalled, frustrated and tormented each time I opened a box with something that belonged to one of them, each time having to decide what to do with that item. Keep it to remember? Or toss it to forget? At that moment in time I wanted to forget, I had the urge to purge my memory and I began to throw everything connected to either one of them in the back of the pickup truck. No boxing, no sorting and no plan. It took all day. I shed myself of everything with the exception of that little Red Flyer wagon. I took this ‘pile of pain’ straight to the city dump, with tears streaming down both cheeks until I had got it all unloaded. Then seeing the dump in the rear view mirror, I went straight to the auto supply house, and installed all the light bulbs; then again, I ate at the small family restaurant in Hamilton. It was the start of a pattern of repetition and a habit that would my last my entire lifetime. To this day, it is comforting to have a base pattern in my life from which I can measure the distance of my endeavors while preventing a certain degree of aimlessness. If I can see where I’m from, I can tell where I’m going. If, from where I am, I cannot see where I’m from, I have gone too far.

The trip home from town was a bit more pleasant than the night before, and as soon as I pulled into the driveway, I pulled up to that old oak tree, went into the small house, and retrieving that little red wagon and I went in to the shop and hung it on the wall, right next to the door, returning to the little white ‘shotgun’ house and another night on that solitary couch.

Wednesday morning, the day before Christmas started much better as I began working in the shop, arranging the equipment, mounting the tools to pegboards in the order of their sizes, and patching the holes in the walls. I missed the commitment and the feedback, but mostly, I craved the interaction. I developed a desperate need to have things in order. I was willing to work hard to achieve that in any manner, as I quickly came to feel that if things were in order, I could make sense of what lay before me, as opposed to the recent set of events that I could make no sense out of at all. I would come to notice that order is also the way of the universe. It was created in six days, and there was rest on the seventh day. Then you start over. The pattern is complete and cyclical.
Eventually, each time I entered the shop with another box to unload, I could take a quick glance around and instantly know that all was in order. Everything in the shop was in place and still there, nothing had been dislodged. It was small consolation, but consolation none the less. My attitude and approach to life was transforming, taking shape and gathering speed and momentum. It was becoming clear the direction I was going to take.

In the small amount of time since the accident, I was sensing several changes were occurring to me. I had either acquired a keener awareness of smell, sound and texture or adapted to the ability to more clearly perceive their presence. But more striking was the awareness of an innate sense of being able to walk just one half step to the side of myself and, this secondary viewpoint gave me an unusual perspective towards discerning logic, much like a pair of eyes aid in depth perception, but did not understand at that time what this was all about. I had already noticed an immediate increase in my organizational skills, and was quickly becoming aware of an ability to more rapidly perceive a sense of proportion and the recognition of things that were mechanically compatible.

I soon remembered that it was Christmas Eve, so as it started to get dark I went into the house that was much warmer than the shop and set up a card table that I had brought in from the shop along with a transmission shipping crate that would serve as my chair for some time to come as it would turn out.

I went back out to the shop to retrieve a fender cover so that I could fold it over and use it for a seat cushion on the crate, and as I headed out the door I spotted an old antique oil bottle that I had found when cleaning out the shop earlier in the week. It was about a foot tall, and I got to thinking that since I did not have a Christmas tree, that maybe I should make one, so I gathered three red shop rags, several of my newer wrenches, a handful of white stay-dry and a three pronged gear puller.

Back in the old house, I began to assemble the miniature tree. I stuffed the tips of the three shop rags into the open top of the stained and dusty oil bottle, spacing them out evenly around the bottles perimeter. Then, I took the three small hand wrenches and stood them upright, leaning against the red rags on either side of two mid-sized crescent wrenches that I had leaned up against the bottle with the jaws facing downward. Next, I turned the three pronged gear puller upside down and slightly spread the three prongs and inserted the adjuster screw into the top opening in the bottle neck, forming a slightly oversized ‘star’, and finished up by sprinkling the white oil absorbent over the entire array with some of it landing on the outstretched corners of the shop rags, providing a less than believable appearance of snow.

I came to realize that this incident must have happened for a reason, and these ‘feelings’ had been presented to me for a reason, and even though I was not able to figure out what that reason was, I had the notion that I should review and utilize those ‘feelings’ to determine the direction of my next step, and all those beyond. I wanted to commit it to paper figuring that if I could organize my thoughts clear enough to write them down, I would be more assured that it was attainable, if pursued within the boundaries of these ‘gifts’.

I made three lists. One list was of the items that I had been told I was good at, one list itemized the items that I thought I was good at, and the third list gathered the things that I knew I enjoyed doing. Making a fourth list that included only those items that were on all three of the other lists, it became apparent that I was destined to be involved in an occupation that required mental gymnastics, manual dexterity, physical endeavors in some form of competition that would provide guidance and give me a measuring instrument to confirm that I was using these ‘gifts’ appropriately. My past experiences and the resulting fourth list was making it clear that I was destined to be in some form of automobile building or, better yet, racing.

That would require extreme hands on work sooner or later, and that realization led me to seek one last unanswered question. Could I be counted on? Was I competent enough? My concern was directly related to one reoccurring thought that I had been carrying around since the accident had been described to me.

The State Highway Patrol officer had described the scene as unusually brutal in one aspect. They had found her car wedged between a very large tree and a concrete abutment that jutted about three feet up from the highway at the entrance to an ‘S’ curve. There were no skid marks and they found parts of a vacuum cleaner 102 yards from the point of impact. In the center of the ‘S’ curve was an exit from an oil distribution center and the officer could not verify it, but merely brought up the fact that a driver may have pulled out in front of her, causing her to swerve, but lacked the courage or the fortitude to stop and report it. With or without that piece of information, I was left heavily burdened by the two most likely scenarios.

The first one, seemingly most likely from the officer’s line of thinking, concluded from hospital reports was that in spite of my often commenting that smoking was not in our child’s best interest, Kelly had been found with the hot end of a cigarette lighter buried in her forehead at the scene of the accident. It was concluded from that observation that regardless of the truck driver being present or not, Sandy had probably been reaching for the cigarette lighter and gotten distracted, and the accident ensued.

The second and of more personal concern to me, was the fact that I had changed the tie rods on both sides of the car almost a month prior to the accident, and I could not shake the fear of a mistake from chasing me thru many of the night time hours. I had to have the answer to that question before I could make that next step.

I was forming a plan to address that very issue as I drifted off to sleep on Christmas Eve. Thinking that early in the morning every person in the state of Ohio would be in their home gathered around the Christmas tree, I got up just before daylight, took my two remaining cans of canned ham and a pound of bacon, my heaviest coat and a pair of long sleeved welding gloves and an 18” long piece of 2 by 4, and headed out to the wrecking yard that held the twisted remains of that old blue Rambler four door. I had tried to get a look of it earlier in the week after the first of the funerals, but the yard manager seemed less than interested in accommodating me, and the two Doberman yard dogs were even less enthralled at my presence.

I drove to the front of the yard, attracting the dogs, at which time I divided up the bacon and the ham and as soon as they spotted breakfast, I hauled ass to the rear of the yard in an alley, I got out of the truck, and using the 2 x 4 to prop up the two lower strands of barbed wire, I wiggled my way into the back of the lot and quickly spotted the ol’ Rambler and crawled my way underneath and was relieved to find both tie rods were bent, but neither of the ends were loose or broken in any way.

As I worked my way out from under the front end of that old car, I brushed up against the lower area of the front firewall and when I wiped it off my face and forearm I noticed it was an off white thick mixture, and thinking it was common oil, tainted with water, I thought little of it until I began to smell it. It was not oil and water but old, coagulated blood, and there was lots of it. It was every where, and as I came to terms with what I had found, I instantly began to vomit. The convulsions continued, but the sound of the dogs approaching forced me back thru the fence and as I got near the truck, I took off my coat and gloves and threw them back over the fence. I am sure that some one was smart enough to figure out what I had done that day, and I appreciate the fact that they did not pursue any legal action. I now had a better understanding why the manager did not want me to look at that car.

I am sure that ranks at the bottom of the list for my favorite Christmases.

It wasn’t long after that discovery, that I felt compelled to make as strong an effort as I possibly could to be involved in an endeavor that was as competitive as possible in as large of a venue as I could find. The larger the measuring stick used, would result in a more accurate assessment of progress made. That required deep water, and I barely new how to swim.

I was beginning to developing a strong sense of faith, enough to realize that to live a good life would require adherence to certain ‘guidelines’. I made a commitment to do the best I could with what I had been given, keeping in mind a guideline from on my parents that stated “to whom much is given, much is expected”. It seemed inappropriate to sit on these ‘gifts’, but it felt appropriate to keep moving and utilize them.

Up to this point in time, I had stunk in football and basketball, but had set or tied high school track records, won many local cart races and several championships, and competed nationally with road racing carts, all leaving me comfortable with my mechanical abilities, but the attraction for deep water was building. It was during this period of time I began making some telephone calls, and eventually talked to a crew chief of a small Indy 500 race team to give me a chance to work for him, getting ready for the upcoming race in Indianapolis.