Sometimes death defies all temptations

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

I was still in high-top shoes when my Uncle Claude, a luckless man, tried to cash in a one-way ticket to eternity. He tried to commit suicide.

It was in the autumn years of the Great Depression, and Uncle Claude’s luck fit the economic catastrophe. He was thousands of dollars in debt, he drank too much and his wife, Beulah, was pregnant. There seemed no way he could avoid life’s bottomless pit. That’s why he sought a means for his family to collect double indemnity on his life insurance.

But Uncle Claude faced a quandary. Besides being unlucky, he also was nonviolent.

He knew if he employed a gun, he would mess up and probably shoot himself in the foot. He couldn’t drown himself either, because in those days the creek that ran through my hometown was only knee deep, and he was a good swimmer.

He thought of several more bizarre schemes, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, he settled on one uncomplicated scenario—he would drive his Model A pickup truck off a mountain cliff, feigning an accident.

Mount Zion rose 2,000 feet straight up on the western edge of town, a barren crag laced by a narrow switchback road barely wide enough for a skinny man on a bicycle. Boulders the size of state office buildings completed the picture.
Uncle Claude’s plan was to feign a death so heinous that his insurance company would gladly pay double indemnity if someone else would mop him up. So he finally sat on the peak one day trying to find nerve enough to drive over the edge. That’s when he ran out of gas.

I don’t want to say Uncle Claude was a total loser, but his battery was also dead, and he couldn’t jump the truck. There was nothing left but to get out and push. He planned to leap inside as the truck dropped over the edge. But he didn’t make it in time.

He said later that the truck didn’t weigh near as much as he thought. When he gave it a big push, it just leaped and disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

Another time he told Aunt Beulah he was going to prune the giant elm trees that bordered his farm. He secretly calculated that a leap from the top of one of the trees would place him squarely on a cement slab in front of his milking barn. The trouble was, Uncle Claude found out that day that he had acrophobia — uncontrollable fear of heights.

He climbed to the top of the appropriate tree, but all he could do was cling to the swaying branches and mutter, “Glurk! Glurk!” Aunt Beulah had to call the volunteer fire department to get him down.

But Uncle Claude wouldn’t give up, and he reached for Plan C. Although nonviolent, he kept an ancient shotgun in the barn. He’d never fired it, but he told Aunt Beulah he was going hunting, and if she heard a shot, not to worry.

But he miscalculated the dependability of the old shotgun, and by the time he dragged himself home late in the day, his fingers were blistered from trying to fire the weapon. It refused to work, because the firing pin had rusted off.

Still, Uncle Claude refused to give up his get-rich-quick blueprint for suicide. When World War II came along, he enlisted in the Marines so that Beulah would get $10,000 from the government when he was killed. We followed his trail through the war by noting planes that crashed for no reason, ships that sunk mysteriously and Marines who landed on beaches in Peru.

All of which shows that no matter how dark the night, you need a little luck to win a war.