He was a son and brother. He was a husband and father. He was a journalist and a soldier. And he was my hero. He didn’t die on a battlefield in some faraway place. He died battling that dreaded disease, the same disease that took our father when he was only 45 and our mother at 57. Darrell died from cancer. He was 40.
Darrell, was less than two years older than me. He always marched to the beat of a different drummer. Literally. All four drums in the set. He taught himself to play drums when he was young and he’d play for hours along with the record player or with several of his friends in their “band” rocking the whole house and neighborhood. I still can’t hear the original “Love Potion Number Nine” without picturing him beating his hands on an imaginary drum (which was actually the nightstand) or hear the drum solo from “Wipe Out” without thinking of him with longing. He was actually pretty good and I remember how tickled I was when at his wedding reception, he got up in his white tuxedo and played with the band, while Kathy, his beaming bride, looked on in amusement.
When Darrell was a senior and I was a sophomore in high school we ended up having two classes together. Journalism and typing (I understand now it’s called “keyboarding”.) He excelled at journalism, I, not so much. However, I got the best of him in our typing class; 90 wpm to his barely passing.
Dad’s dream which he achieved just a few years before he died, was to own his own Sinclair gas station. Darrell and I both worked for dad. I kept the books. Darrell, much to his dislike, had to get in there and get his hands dirty and Darrell couldn’t stand to get his hands dirty.
Dad was able to attend Darrell’s high school graduation, the only one of his children he lived to see achieve that milestone but he died shortly thereafter. After Dad died, Darrell grew his hair long like much of the other young men of his generation. This was during the waning years of the Vietnam war but the military draft was still in effect. Darrell drew a relatively low draft number so his choices were either to enlist in a branch of the military of his choosing or be drafted. Darrell chose to enlist in the Air National Guard. He didn’t cut his hair though. He used to go to his monthly guard weekends wearing a wig. Darrell stayed in the Guard for the rest of his life, rising to the rank of Major.
Growing up, Darrell stuttered which caused him much anxiety. When he reached adulthood, he had seemingly overcome most of it and only occasionally would his tongue get stuck on some elusive letter which just wouldn’t let go. That may have been why Darrell turned to writing to express himself. He graduated from UMSL and received a Master of Journalism Degree from Lindenwood College. He wrote for the now defunct St. Louis Globe Democrat and St. Louis Sun. He loved those jobs, but unfortunately neither newspaper was able to survive the St. Louis market.
Darrell and I were never extremely close, I never followed him around and he didn’t beat up guys that broke my heart, but after we lost our mother (also to cancer), the four of us kids made an effort to stay together. We always got a chuckle out of one of his endeavors when he was a struggling writer. He wrote a book along the lines of a Harlequin romance under the pen name of “Hope Richardson” and used my birthday in the story line. I was thrilled. Several copies of that book still exist, sadly, I don’t know what happened to my copy.
Shortly before his death, I gathered the courage to tell Darrell how proud I was of him and how amazed I was that someone I was actually related to could write something someone else would pay to read. That touching moment played out with us sitting side by side on his hospital bed. It wasn’t easy for me; I didn’t want him to see me cry; to think that he was causing me pain. I had just started to tell him what was in my heart when a nurse barged in and said “am I interrupting anything?” Of course she was. It’s been 22 years now since his death and I’m sure Darrell influenced me much more than he ever knew. He was the “big brother”, the one I admired, the one I still miss. Darrell’s life and premature death has made me realize that each new day is a blessing and has given me the courage to face most everything.
To Darrell Charles Shoults. September 8, 1952 to January 5, 1993. Happy Birthday Darrell.