CULLMAN, Ala. – In the nearly three years since his death, the legacy of 15-year-old Curtis “Curt” James Wilson has impacted families across Cullman County through Curt’s Closet, the ministry of Curt’s mother, Ashley Wilson. Now, Ashley’s mother Diane Harrington Lee has taken a step to help people see the impact Curt had already made during his life, and to help broaden the reach of his legacy to a whole new audience.
Lee recently published “Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Remembering Curt,” a book that tells the story of Curt’s short life, the tragedy of his death at the hands of a drunk driver and the ongoing story of the family he left behind.
The first part of the book chronicles the last year of Curt’s life: his love of sports, interaction with classmates at school and more. The second part deals with his death and the aftermath, and his family’s efforts to come to grips with and make something meaningful out of the tragic loss they suffered.
Lee talked to The Tribune about how the book came to be:
“I was afraid that we would forget things about Curt: forget his personality and how funny he was, and little things that he did, and just his voice and stuff like that. So, I started jotting down notes on pieces of paper when it would go through my mind, so I wouldn’t forget it. I ended up with like a hundred of what I call ‘Curt notes.’
“Ashley had a lot of notes from his classmates and teammates, and she couldn’t read them. It had been about three months, and I wanted to read them and she let me. I went home and read the notes, and it was like- they told funny stories about Curt and what he meant to them. It felt like I’d been with Curt all day long. I thought, ‘Oh, my God; if I can just read about Curt every day, it’ll be like I’m with him.’
“So the inspiration was really from his classmates. I just started writing, and that’s how it all came about.”
Changing minds, preventing other tragedies
One cannot talk about the legacy of Curt Wilson without talking about his death. That tragedy became Lee’s second goal in writing the book: to change the minds of would-be drunk drivers.
Lee explained, “I want to do something to stop drunk driving. And I feel like, if a drunk driver read this book, he would have to have some emotions about it; he would have to, and maybe he would think twice before he drove drunk again. So, my goal is to get it into the hands of the offender in these programs that they have for them. Why wouldn’t they let them read that book?
“The other thing is: I want it to be in driver’s ed classes in high school, because kids can relate to Curt through reading this book, and I want it to impress upon them to not drive drunk when they grow up or when they’re in high school.”
Lee does not know how far the book might go, but was emphatic about what she wants it to do, saying, “I really want it to affect the offender so that he stops driving drunk. They’ve got to understand how dangerous it is. I mean, Curt’s death affected probably 3,000 lives; I mean it affected them. It wasn’t that a kid got killed by a drunk driver; no, it was that Curt’s life absolutely affected thousands. He was a special kid. I know everybody says that about their kids, and I try to explain that in the book, but there was something about Curt that was different from other kids.
“And you know, that’s the long-term goal, is just to affect drunk drivers in a way that makes them think twice before they get behind the wheel drunk.”
What do you most want people to remember about Curt?
Lee responded, “I actually said that in the book, that it’s so hard to pinpoint it. You would have had to have known Curt to understand. I really believe that he was not meant to live a long life, and I explain that in the book; there are things that happened. I think he was here to make an impact.
“I actually have a list of his attributes, if you will; I call it his legacy. He was a friend to the downtrodden, if you know what I mean. He would pick out kids at school and lift them. I’ve had coaches tell me that, too. He was different.
“And he was funny. Everyone wanted to be in his class, because he made the class fun. He wasn’t disruptive; he wasn’t the type that the teachers got mad at him. Oh, it’s so hard to explain. But he was just fun; he loved life. He loved to get up and go to school. What kid does that? He loved it!
“It’s just so hard to explain who he was, but he was something else. And he was always smiling. I can’t remember him getting mad at his mom or me or his brothers- well, he might have gotten aggravated at a brother, but it was forgotten. You know, he never stayed mad, never was mad. If you were talking about something, he was interested in it. He was not a typical teenager, by any means.”
Lee has set up the website https://remembercurt.com to offer the book in hardbound, softbound and e-book versions, along with other items. She hopes to begin getting the book into bookstores in the near future, and then work toward distributing it to DUI offenders through the court system.
Ashley Wilson spoke to The Tribune about her mother’s project, saying, “I have watched her painstakingly write it for two and a half years. She has definitely poured her heart and soul into it. She’s asked me if I want to read it, and just right now, I’m not able to; it’s just too painful. I have not read it personally and I don’t know when I’ll be able to, but the ones who have read it say that it’s a powerful book. I’m excited for her and for our family, and I’m thankful that we have this book to remember Curt and, hopefully, make some kind of difference in the world by this book, because she has plans for it, and I know God will see it through.”
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