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Robert A. Mills

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CRASH
9/29/2012 4:39:10 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

On a Saturday this past June one of my seven favorite nieces was involved in a horrific auto accident that not only destroyed her car but put both she and the other driver briefly in the hospital. As usual my information is sketchy and unreliable at best, and all I know for certain is that she was alone at the time the two cars came together; her husband and young son were not with her.

And it was not her fault, according to a witness at the scene..

The niece was soon home and mending. I am told that she will, in time, be right as rain, and her most noticeable affliction will be memories of physical therapy sessions and a new car (or at least one of more recent vintage).

I do not know how the driver of the other car fared, but I heard through the grapevine from assorted in-laws (and outlaws) my niece has retained legal counsel.

As it is always all about me, so I am told, I was reminded of the time in 1948 when I nearly shuffled off this mortal coil by way of a head-on collision near Montezuma NY, hitchhiking from Utica to Rochester. I was seventeen that year and about to begin my senior semester in a brand new (to me) high school.

My father had recently landed a job with E.W. Edwards & Son, one of Rochester’s premier department stores, and after spending a disastrous summer in my grandparent’s second floor flat in Utica, I was anxious to get to Rochester and see the new house my folks had rented.

I decided to hitchhike and save the bus fare; I planned to be there in time to start school. I left Utica on a Saturday; it was raining cats, and as they say, dogs.

My ride was in a brand new Chrysler coupé, which succumbed to my damp thumb, and was driven by a dapper young salesman with a trim moustache; his name was Derrick Manola and, as I recall, he smoked a pipe.

“This is your lucky day!” he proclaimed, as I tossed my duffle in the back and climbed aboard. “I am going all the way to Rochester, and I will take you there in style!” he said. “How do you like this new buggy?”

We chatted amiably as the New York countryside rolled by. Derrick, it was revealed, was starting a new job on Monday as a salesman for Eastman Kodak, and part to his employment package included the new Chrysler.

I told him, “I am g-g-going to be a senior at E-e-e-east High,” and I do not know if he was impressed or not. “My old man got a j-j-j-job as assistant shoe buyer for some big department store, so I said g-g-g-goodbye to my buddies in Norfolk after three years.”

“That where you from?” he asked, and to his credit he did not say “you all.”

I nodded and turned my head to look at three fellows fishing from a rowboat. They were sitting in the rain, fishing, as we crossed the stream over a narrow bridge. “They are all g-g-gonna get s-s-soaked,” I said, and that is the last thing I remember until I came to with the horn blowing incessantly.

“Hey, kid, wake up! You okay?” someone was shouting in my ear, pulling at me. I came to then, and the first thing I saw was Derrick beside me, slumped over the steering wheel. I noticed the pipe, still in his mouth, was pushed back until only the bowl was visible against his moustache. There was a trickle of blood running down his chin.

Before I drifted off again I saw the windshield was shattered in front of me. My knees were sore where they had hit the dashboard; my trousers were torn.

I have no idea how I got there, but the next thing I remember was coming to again in a doctor’s office; a man of considerable years was bending over me; he wore a scope on his forehead. “The kid’s eyelid is just about nearly cut off,” he said to someone. “Put six stitches in it. Should be okay. Musta hit his head on the windshield. His knees are all cut up. He better see somebody when he gets home.”

I later learned I was in a rural doctor’s office in the village of Savannah. How I got there (or how I finally got to Rochester) is, to this day, a mystery. But somehow I found myself on Parsells Avenue, and once my father saw me, limping and bandaged from legs to forehead, I was in a taxi bound for the ER at Strong Memorial Hospital.

How long they kept me at Strong is now a dim memory, a gray area, but I do remember a solicitous attendant who changed my bandages and gave me frequent sponge baths. A doctor who saw me a few times assured me I was doing well and could go home in a while.

School was already a month old before I showed up (still on crutches, my head and face swathed in bandages); there I met classmate Midge Costanza, who became a close friend. A teacher named Harold Cowles took me under his wing, worked with me to get rid of my Southern accent, and broke me of my nervous stuttering (without him I would never have made it in broadcasting).

I never saw Derrick Manola again, and I have no idea how he fared — nor do I know the fate of the other driver or passengers in the car that hit us on that narrow bridge. I assume they all recovered in time.

I have often wondered if the guys in the rowboat caught any fish, and if they noticed what had happened on the bridge above them.

I do recall, however, the fidgety insurance man who called on my mother at our house, and the papers she signed (against my instincts and advise) and the paltry check she accepted for my pain and suffering. I also recall the years I spent having dreadful de ja vu, frequent headaches, and expectations I would keel over at any moment and never wake up.

Twice I sought medical help for the mental anguish I endured, and twice I was told I would outgrow it. They were right. I was about thirty when I finally said, “Screw it.”

After that, unknown things that go bump in my head never plagued me again — at least, not until sixty-four years later when a MRI revealed Primary Lateral Sclerosis, not that I can legitimately suspect the head trauma in 1948 had anything to do with it.

Anyway, I have not hitchhiked to save bus fare much since then. Not that I would forego the adventure if the opportunity (or necessity) again raised its head. It is still my favorite form of transportation, although I must admit Aer Lingus is not all that bad.

So . . . I am cheap. Live with it.

By the way, my niece is back to almost normal. Well, as normal as ever.



Copyright©2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved






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