The tree stump juts from the side of Pleasant Plains Road near a stand of oaks and a flat stretch of farm land. This is where Kirk Hein died by fire in a bright yellow Corvette.
A 2-foot flowered cross sits atop the stump: White flowers form the cross, a cluster of red roses making a diagonal through its heart. This is part of how Kirk's parents, Carl Jr. and Dorothy Hein, grapple with the anguish of loss.
Every three or four months they change the flowers on the cross. They cut the grass. They maintain this memorial to their son and hopeto spare other parents and children their pain.
"It was sort of our feeling that maybe it would remind some other young person that speed and drinking do kill," said Dorothy Hein. "A reminder that you are vulnerable when you rely on other people."
About 3 a.m. on May 30, 1987, two county police officers appeared at the door of the Hein home on Hidden Point Road, across the Severn River from Annapolis. They said there had been an accident less than a mile from the house.
Kirk Hein and his high school buddy, Thomas Andrews, were returningfrom Annapolis in Andrews' Corvette about 1:30. Andrews lost controlof the car on a sharp curve along Pleasant Plains Road. The car leftthe road and hit a tree. Andrews got free, but Hein was pinned in the passenger seat. He died when the car burst into flames.
Andrews was charged and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter, drunken drivingand speeding. He was sentenced to probation and community service.
Kirk Hein was 21 years old.
Right after he was buried at Glen Haven Memorial Cemetery in Glen Burnie, the Heins placed some of the funeral flowers by the charred tree at the bend in the road. Next to the flowers they placed an anchor, because Kirk loved boating and waterskiing, and a lacrosse stick, because that was his favorite sport.
Shortly after the accident, the charred tree was cut down to a stump. Months after, the county had a guard rail installed on the curve.
Kirk was an outgoing young man with bright, blue-green eyes and a ready smile. After graduating from Spalding High School in 1983, he attended Radford University in Radford, Va., for a year, then returnedto Maryland to work for one of three family businesses. The family owns Hein Bros. Pool & Spa Shoppe in Glen Burnie, Hein Bros. Inc. fuelservice and three Casual Furniture Gallery stores.
As pool service manager for the pool company, Kirk displayed a knack for public relations and a talent for smoothing the feathers of the most ruffled customers. He was at ease with himself, had many friends and much love for his family, his brother, two sisters, nieces and nephews. The last time his mother saw him was at the office the Friday afternoon before the crash. He was on the telephone with his sister, Cindy, in California. His father saw him last that morning at the office.
"There's two things I miss a lot," said Dorothy Hein. "One, hearing him sayto his father, 'Hey, pal, what are we going to get into today?' And (to me), 'How's my favorite sweetheart?' "
Often when Kirk would come home from a night out, he and his mother would talk for hours.
The Heins talked about Kirk as they sat on the back deck of their home, where the backyard slopes down to Mill Creek. A water skier went by with a great spray and a holler. Carl Hein said it would always bother Kirk if he were not the boating season's very first water skier on the creek.
The reminders of Kirk are everywhere here: the creek, the family boat he so enjoyed tied to the dock, the photographs in the living room, his bedroom upstairs with his neckties hanging inside the closet on a rack and his baseball glove on a shelf. Every so often
Carl Hein asks his wife if she'd rather move away, leave some of the memory behind. The answer always is no.
"I'd feel like I'm running away from Kirk," she said. "I just haven't been able to do that."
She has considered giving talks for Mothers Against Drunk Driving or other anti-drunken driving group, but said, "I think I'm justto emotional to do it. I wish I could. I guess that's why we're hoping that the cross will remind people of the devastation death causes."
The memorial sits about eight-tenths of a mile from their front door. They cannot leave or return to their home without driving past the spot.
"I come home or leave, I say, 'Hi, pal.' " said Carl Hein. "It's just tough, that's all. Very, very tough."
"When you've lost a child, basically, the grieving period never ends," said his wife. "It's a situation you learn to live with. The pain never really goes away."