Neil Sutton: October 2013 Writing Challenge Winner

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Underage Drinking, Uncles, and the Breath of Fresh Air

It was the mid‐1980s and Dad was getting re‐married. It was a simple wedding and he held the reception in his backyard. At the time, Dad was a Budweiser man, and it flowed freely for the occasion. Even my sister and I (both teenagers) were allowed to partake since we were with family … and partake I did.

It was a bit surreal sitting there drinking beer with Grandma and Grandpa, but they didn’t seem to mind. I like to think I was actually holding my own — until Uncle Wayne asked, “Hey, Man! Where’s your dad keeping the good stuff?” I obligingly showed him to the basement bar, where he began mixing drinks.

It was some time later when another uncle, Dave, found me, head in hands, sitting on the front porch. He shook his head, chuckling, “The key, Neil, is to take deep breaths, and breathe in the fresh air.” That’s what I did, and it seemed to be helping — until Uncle Wayne found me again.

Uncle Wayne’s advice: “Whatever you do, don’t take deep breaths, Man; it’ll make your head swim!”

So I stopped taking those deep breaths, and sat with my head now between my knees until Dad came along. He laughed his big laugh, slapped me on the back, and said, “You know, it’s like Mark Twain said …”

I don’t remember what Mark Twain said, or anything else from the night, as I began unceremoniously depositing wedding cake, beanie weenies, and anything else I had eaten that day onto the landscaping.

So where was the lesson in that — other than: don’t follow your “fun” uncle’s advice … ever? “The key is to take deep breaths, and breathe in the fresh air.” — Uncle Dave

I doubt Uncle Dave intended it to be sagacious advice to tuck into my back pocket and apply to all areas of my life — but that’s what I’ve done.

This tool has served me well, when things get to be too much to handle. At work or in my personal life, I can always fall back on those words and step back to take those deep, head‐clearing breaths of oxygen.

There have been many times, with deadlines upon us, when co‐workers were snapping at each other, running around making mistakes, that I have been able to breathe deep and calmly muscle through whatever tasks were ahead to meet the deadline.

In my personal life, as a loving husband and father, I cannot claim to adhere perfectly to this advice, but when I do — when I take those extra couple of moments to breathe and regain composure — I am proud of my behavior.

Finally, and of equal importance, it serves as a metaphor for the life many of us are striving to live — the writer’s life. A life filled with those opportunities to step back and breathe. When I lose sight of that goal, I take a deep breath and remember where I’m headed and adjust.

Thanks, Uncle Dave.

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