Mr. Bradbury would help out from time to time by reviewing and commenting on Mr. Whitty's literary labors. Mr. Bradbury helped the budding, young writer to understand how his writing career developed over the decades. It seems to me that his love of writing was shared in a manner which instilled a love of writing into the life of Stephan Whitty.
Perhaps it was the closing phrase of this well-crafted piece which jumped off the page at me. Mr. Whitty closed his thoughts about the impact of Ray Bradbury's on his with these simple words; "…He changed my life. I am a writer because of him. God bless him." People must have thought me to be somewhat nuts as they passed by the booth which held an aging, grey-haired fireman who had tears coming down his cheeks. But that is just how I am.
The meaning of the words which I had just read seemed to be burning a hole in the center point of the writer's section of my brain. There was something here which cried out to be said. Then it dawned on me. Each of us can tell a similar story. Each of us needs to sit down and think about the people who helped us to be the person we are today.
As I sat there, I began writing down names of people from each stage of my life that had left an imprint on my. As you might imagine, the list of people I wanted write about grew by leaps and bounds. Rather than bore you with an endless litany of names I set some criteria for making it to my special list. There are two primary criteria:
- I had to be able to define their impact in a succinct set of descriptive phrases.
- They had to have gone on to their reward,
I made the first decision in the interests of brevity. However, there is a much more important reason for the addition of the second criteria. If the person you wish to thank for their influence in your life is still alive, let me urge you to take the time, get in your car and go say thank you to them. If they are not local, call them on the phone and tell them how you feel. I cannot tell you how many times I have attended a wake or funeral and bemoaned the fact that I had never told the deceased what their impact on my life had really meant to me.
The purpose of this article is to get you to thinking about the folks that you believe helped to make you the person you are today. In my case, there really was no hesitation when it came to choosing the first person to share with you. Woodrow 'Chubby' Lykes was a long-time member and past-Captain of the Freehold First Aid Squad. More than that, he was my first advisor when I joined the Freehold First Aid Cadet organization in the spring of 1964.
He had also worked for many years at the rug mill in Freehold which has been made famous the world over by Bruce Springsteen. Chubby was the classic character with the gruff exterior which hid a truly amazing heart of gold. He and Jim Sweetman, the other cadet advisor, rode herd on us unruly young pups. He laid down the law and then enforced when one of us would break the rules.
It was my lot in life to be one of Chubby's disciplinary targets. As a fledgling smart-ass, I often ran afoul of the rules. Additionally, I had the habit of simply doing stupid things. It has long been said that I still hold the record for time suspended from duty. However, he must have seen something in me.
As I have grown and matured, I now see that what Chubby saw in me something in me that I did not yet even know or understand. He saw that I had a quick temper. When you combine a quick temper with a propensity to be a smart ass, you have a combination destined to land a lad into trouble. Fortunately for me, and a lot of other guys from Freehold, Chubby was patient with our frequent youthful sins. He invested a lot of time into rounding the rough edges off us guys. I sure wish he was here so that I could share these thoughts with him.
My old high school football coach falls into the same category as Chubby. Only I am not as certain about the warm heart under the gruff exterior. However, he did help me to receive a number of football scholarship offers when I graduated in 1965. He too recognized that I had a bad temper and in his own way, he worked to help me calm down a bit more. I can still recall the time when he came into the lunch room at Freehold Regional High School to conduct a special award ceremony for a party of one: me. He presented me with the most God-awful looking little plastic statue. It was of a man lifting weights. That ugly little rascal with bulging eyes and veins was presented to me in front of all my buddies.