by David Wethington
My Uncle Verlin grew up rough. He was the youngest of nine kids raised during the depression in abject poverty. Being the smallest, he was considered the baby of the family. His four older brothers always picked on him. But by the time he was a teenager, he was 6 feet tall and 180 pounds of solid muscle. He made up his mind that nobody would hurt him again.
He became tough. While he didn’t start a single fight, he didn’t back down from any. One night, four men attacked him in a bar. He dropped one on the spot, drove another out the back door, and sent the third into the juke box. They attacked him; he was just defending himself. The police took Verlin to jail, and the attackers went to the hospital.
On Christmas Eve 1957, one of Verlin’s brothers, Herbie, was married and had three girls under the age of 6. That day, Herbie loaded the car with Christmas presents and picked his wife up from work. On the way home, sitting at one of their stops, Herbie turned to his wife and died on the spot. He suffered a massive heart attack and was dead before he hit the ground. He was 27 years old.
5A dozen years and maybe two dozen fights later, Uncle Verlin learned that Herbie’s oldest daughter wanted to go to college. Her stepfather wouldn’t help pay her expenses, so Verlin invited her to explain what she wanted from her education. She told him what she wanted to study. “How much does it cost to go to this college?” Verlin asked. She told him what the first year’s expenses would be, and what money she had saved babysitting and doing odd jobs.
Verlin had never married and had no dependents. He said “You are my brother’s daughter. If I don’t give the money to you, the taxman will get it.” He wrote a check on the spot for the entire semester’s expenses — tuition, books, boarding, everything! Before every semester for the next four years, Verlin sent her another check.
In my senior year of college, I ran out of money. My student loans were maxed out and tuition was due. Uncle Verlin gave me the money I needed. A few months later I was working, and went to pay him what I borrowed. He said I didn’t have to, but I insisted.
He smiled and said “You know, I’ve loaned money to a lot of people and you’re the only one who has ever even attempted to pay me back.” Less than a week later, he was killed in a car crash.
I loved him dearly, and miss him so. Uncle Verlin was a tough, hard drinking, blue collar man who had a million faults. And this world could use a few more people with his heart of gold.