In November 1965, my brother was killed by a drunk driver. He was 24, had landed his dream job as basketball coach of the high school we all attended, and he and his wife had just two days before announced they were having their first child. It was a very, very difficult time for all of us. In the spring of 1966, the Heft’s—Bill, Martha and their daughters Jean and Nancy–invited us to their house for dinner. We knew the Heft’s, but not as well as some others in the community, so it was kind of a mystery as to why they invited us. They lived in a beautiful farm house on top of a hill about four miles from our farm. Bill was an executive at Packard Electric and part time farmer. Martha was a well-educated and proper lady.
As it turned out, they had a plan. They acknowledged Chuck’s death and told Mom and Dad how sorry they were. While many people expressed their sympathy during that time, it was a tragedy the community really didn’t want to discuss. There were very few people that were comfortable enough to take the issue head on, especially those who were not very, very close to our family. That night, the Heft’s became very close to our family. They had been talking about their idea with the McCarthy’s—Warren and Sue—who were my parent’s best friends. Bill and Martha wanted to take Mom, Dad and I on vacation with them for a week at Myrtle Beach, SC. They felt it would be good for all of us to get away.
Jean and Nancy were about nine and five years older than me, respectively. They were beautiful, not only like models on the outside, but the most wonderful people on the inside. They took a special interest in me, a geeky and awkward 10 year old cowboy kid. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how that night they were so enthusiastic to meet me and how they talked to me, showed me around the house, and played games with me. They really made me feel welcomed, and I was star-struck by both of them. Many years later when Jean got married, I think I made her husband jealous when I told her that I was hoping she would wait for me. Everybody got a good chuckle out of it, anyway.
That night was a changing point for a grieving family. The ride home was full of wonder. How would Dad squeeze in the time between haying season and the gas and oil delivery business to take a week’s vacation? Would we get along with the Heft’s living together for a week? How were we going to make it work? It got our minds off of the grim months behind us and gave us something to look forward to. There are many adventures that the Heft’s and us had at Myrtle Beach as it became a tradition with wonderful friends and memories that you will hear more about. Christ said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The Heft’s were a comfort to our family, one that I will never forget. Remember, your kindness to others has lasting impact.