Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Pete R." by Donald Lee Hardy, 2007 Winner James Joyce Society Essay Contest

Most of us, if not all of us, know someone whose influence has made a profound life-changing impact upon our lives, "Angels in Human Form," as it were. That someone may be a parent, spouse, teacher, friend, work superior, historical figure, perhaps even a perfect stranger.

Many of you reading this are now in the 6th, some the 7th or even 8th, decade of your sojourn on this planet. As you reflect upon where you've been, and how you got from "there" to "here," you are, no doubt, in awe of the incredible, miraculous, and adventuresome journey that has been your life.

Tell us your story about who and how that special someone affected your life and a $100 Cash Prize will be paid to the Winner of the most interesting story. Cash Prizes are also available for 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and 2 Honorable Mentions.


Liam MacSheonin, Irish Literary Critic, Author-Member, The James Joyce Society of New York; assisted by Peter Curcio, Bureau Chief, The Italian American News Agency; and Ed Bloom, Correspondent, Jewish Media Group.


TO: Steve Savage, Essay Sponsor
FROM: Liam MacSheonin, Chmn., ad hoc Essay Evaluation Committee

It is our privilege to announce the Winning Essays of The James Joyce Society Essay Contest 2007. Of the 27 finalist essays submitted from five groups representing over 350 invitations, they are as follows: First Place "Award of Excellence 2007" $100 Cash Prize: "Pete R." by Donald Lee Hardy of the Kagnew Station Guard Group; 2nd Place $75 Cash Prize: "Ace Alagna, KM" by Martin Masi of the Gruppo Mutuo Succorso; 3rd Place $50 Cash Prize: "Rabbi Aaron Lefkowitz" by Steve Rosen, Borders Books Writers Club; and 2 Honorable Mentions, $25 Cash Prize each: "Father Jeremiah Murphy" by Edward MacDonald, Barnes & Noble Writers Club; and "Shirley Chisholm" by Aquila Williams, Douglas College.

The First Place Cash Prize winnings that you deposited with us, at the request of Mr. Hardy, will be donated to the Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Dallas, Texas, accompanied by this notification. Also, per your instructions, copies will be sent to: The Kagnew Guard Group, Masonic Post Oak Island Lodge #181, Beaukiss, Texas; and to: The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Washington, D.C., whose Supreme Council, on June 20, 2007, elected Mr. Hardy to the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander of the Court of Honor.

We believe that your Blog readers will concur with our decision and enjoy, with us, Mr. Hardy's very inspirational, very readable, conversational-style essay. Please convey our congratulations to Mr. Hardy on being named The James Joyce Society Essay Contest Award Recipient 2007, and extend congratulations, as well, to each successive Honoree.

On a personal note, my associates and I would like to express how impressed we were with the content of the majority of the 27 essays submitted. It did not make for an easy task, we can assure you. However, we did judge with strict impartiality.


Liam MacSheonin, in association with Peter Curcio, and Ed Bloom


"Pete R." by Donald Lee Hardy (photo)

This story begins in the late 1950s on the Texas-Mexican border in a little town called Pharr. I am the oldest of four children brought into this world by a hard working middle class couple who captured their piece of the “American Dream” the old fashioned way. They worked for it. Either of my parents would have been ideal candidates for the subject of this piece because they both did everything humanly possible to make sure that my two sisters, brother and I, got the right start in life. But as much as my folks did to make sure our needs were fulfilled, they couldn’t be there every minute of every day and the Republic of Mexico was only eight short miles away.

I don’t really remember when I had my first drink of alcohol but I do know that from about the time I was fifteen years old till my mid thirties, my life centered around when I was going to “get drunk.” At first it was no big deal. Booze was easy to get. If I couldn’t get beer with my fake ID, I’d hitch-hike to Reynosa and smuggle a pint of tequila back in each of my cowboy boots. So, from about the time I started Junior High School on, I was addicted. Addiction was no problem. Academically, I excelled and managed to graduate near the top of my high school class but college was a different story. They didn’t care if you showed up or not, and nobody called your parents, so it was one semester and then “Hello Uncle Sam." Hell, the Army of the 60's was a wino's paradise. I stayed in four years and made Staff Sergeant but towards the end of my hitch I had crossed some sort of line and could no longer stay out of trouble.

The remainder of my “drunk-a-log” is pretty much typical. I tried being a cop for a while and then landed a job as a corporate investigator, jumped to another company and was doing fantastic financially. I’d married shortly after I got out of the Army and fathered two children but finally the addiction got me. After drinking myself out of a job a lot of guys would kill for, I went to work as a boiler maker and welder. Jobs in construction were easy to come by, but even construction companies expect you to show up and produce. I’d finally graduated to full blown alcoholic. I couldn’t hold a job. The repo man had our cars and, to be honest, I figured I had about a year to live the way I was going. Somehow I managed to con a used car salesman out of a beat up old Ford station wagon and headed from Houston back to the border so my wife and kids could at least have a roof over their heads and food to eat at my in-laws farm.

My plan was to leave them there, go off somewhere and drink myself to death but my wife got me court-committed to a state run re-hab facility for two weeks. It was there that I met the man who saved my life. His name was Pete R.

Pete was twelve years my senior and twelve years sober. A real “no-bullshit” type of guy who worked as a mechanic out of his home shop by day and dedicated every minute of his spare time to the Twelfth Step of AA; that is, to carry the message he had received to others who were still suffering. Another thing about Pete is, he never gave up on anybody. I did my first two week stint in re-hab and came out firmly convinced that I had the demon whipped. Hah! I was 33 at the time and dumb enough to believe that I could alter eighteen years of lifestyle in fourteen days. I lasted about a month and landed back in rehab. Pete would show up for AA group sessions a couple of times a week and quietly tell his story. Well, I’d tried this sobering up business my way without success so I figured I’d listen to this skinny little bastard. At least he wasn’t still going through the hell I was.

Pete’s message was simple. Get up every morning and ask your higher power for the ability to make it through the day without getting drunk. Go to as many AA meetings as you could (at least one a day) and if you stayed sober for that day, thank your higher power for another day without alcohol. He also preached that you should keep yourself busy helping others attempt to get and stay sober.

I went to re-hab seven times during a two year period. Everybody gave up on me but me and Pete. My next to the last time was at the VA Hospital in Kerrville, Texas. Pete had driven me up for the 45 day program but when I “graduated” I had to hitch-hike home. When I got to Edinburg, Texas, which was about ten miles north of where I needed to be, I called Pete. He told me that he was tied up and needed me to substitute for him at his meeting at the re-hab center in Edinburg. I protested that I’d only got out of a program the day before; to which he replied, “Good, it’s fresh on your mind. Go talk to them and I’ll pick you up at 5 PM.” I did and he came though with the ride.

My last stint in re-hab was at the Rio Grande Valley State Center in Harlingen, Texas. The place was pretty much the end of the line. Not much counseling, just a lock-up for 30 days and then back out on the street to drink until a bed opened up. I was the only non-Hispanic in the place. I don’t know why this was the last time. I do know that Pete made the thirty-mile drive to see me several times a week and, as soon as I got out, gave me a place to stay and a job doing minor welding, oil changes, brakes, tune-ups, etc. And we did Twelve Step work.. Every night we did Twelve Step work. Sometimes we’d work with some poor soul all night and mechanic all day and still make a couple AA meetings. I stayed with Pete for about a year and eventually began to trust myself.

My last drink was twenty-five years ago. I went on to build a couple of successful companies and a solid reputation. I am a member of the oldest fraternal organization in the world and have been honored by this organization in many ways. I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my kids and grand-kids; and my ex-wife and I are friends, although why this saint of a woman would ever speak to me again is a mystery.

All of the success and happiness I now enjoy, and the good I attempt to do in this world, would not have happened but for Pete R.

Pete passed away two years ago. His quiet dedication to his work of many years resulted in countless stories like mine. He was probably the best man I ever knew.


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