Hardscrabble beginnings imprinted violence upon his psyche. He learned to fight on city streets for his needs. Never was there enough. Short, stocky, brash in speech and action, a knockabout character, he set fires and ran.

How he transmuted these behaviors and became a city fireman is unknown. Dangerous, messy, he loved his work, the camaraderie with his brothers in the firehouse, enhanced with cold beers.* Eighteen times he was revived. What are also unknown are the lives he saved and the blanketed remains he carried to waiting ambulances. The same is true of pets.

He was also a husband, a father of one daughter and three sons, a grandfather.

How he made it to the tables of Alcoholic Anonymous is also unknown. There, he retooled his firefighting skills to help others mired in alcohol and drug hell-fires for twenty-four years. A chance meeting, a chance remark changed my life in 2001. To the end, he retained his brusque manner.

His battered heart finally gave way on January 22, 2015.

We will miss his spirited blue eyes, filmed by cataracts.

His name was Earl.

*It was only in 2000 that Mayor Alfonzo Cervantes mandated drug and alcohol screening for all emergency personnel in the city of St. Louis.