Just My Luck – Chapter 3
When I was a pre-schooler I nearly lost my (up-to-then-very-short) life. The event is one of my earliest childhood memories. When I think back on it, which is not often anymore, I realize how lucky I was to be around to start Kindergarten later that year.
The neighborhood where I lived the first 18 years of my life was a great place. The houses were modest, middle class homes with nothing more than the width of a driveway separating them on either side. By the time I was seven I knew everyone who lived in all of the 30 or so houses on Palmer Street – kids and grown ups – and they knew me. Our’s was not a busy street, but neither was it a dead end. It was one of a warren of local residential roads that terraced a broad hill. Our little 1/8th mile road was one of the terraces cut into the hill and was bracketed by perpendicular downhill roads at both ends.
Roughly half the meager traffic flow on Palmer Street was made up by our neighbors coming or going and by visitors to them. It was hardly a popular destination. Any other folks driving by were most likely on the way to their preferred downhill route to the major artery of our village, Springdale. There were plenty of destinations down there – variety stores, grocery stores, a few bars, barber shops, a lunch counter, churches, gas stations, a liquor store, dry cleaners, an elementary school, a branch of the city’s library, a post office, our Little League field, a Sealtest milk processing and packaging plant,and even a train station on a ‘spur line’ serving commuters to New York City.
The residential streets on the hill had a lot of kids of different ages – the babies of the boom – and our playgrounds were our back yards and the street. Whenever we played games on the street, the first kid to see a car turning onto our road would shout “Car!” (clever huh?) and we’d all politely step aside to yield our space to drivers as they drove by.
It was the summer of 1956, the year Don Larson of the New York Yankees pitched the first and only perfect game in a World Series on my fifth birthday. A bunch of kids from all around were playing war (if someone ‘shot’ you, you counted to 10 and then rejoined the battle). I was only four-going-on-five years old, but I was excited because for some reason the “big kids” were letting us little ones play with them. The battle lines had been drawn on either side of the road right in front of my house and the combatants hid and shouted “bam” while pulling the triggers of their toy guns aimed from behind cars parked curbside.
The leader of our pint-sized army called us all together and laid out a plan for us to charge through the no-man’s-land and engage the enemy on the other side of the road close up. A plan! A coordinated attack with and at the big kids! I couldn’t wait! So on his count of three we fearless little soldiers charged across the street to meet our foes.
When I arrived at the other curb, the biggest of the big kids on their side stood up right in front of me and bellowed at all of us to get back to our own side of the street before he started knocking heads together (or some such thing). Genuinely frightened I turned and made a mad dash towards the safety of the cars parked in front of my house, completely oblivious to the car driving by that met me side-on as I darted in front of it from between two parked cars.
I remember the collision of steel (no aluminum in cars yet) and the side of my head and I vaguely recollect being airborne. The next thing I knew I was lying on the side of the street and my mother was on her knees next to me crying.
Apparently, when I landed on the street after the collision I either was or became unconscious and remained that way for several minutes during which time my mother had come to my side and a neighbor had called for an ambulance. In shock, fear and pain I started to wail – a good sign.
Years later, when my mother recounted the scene, she told me she saw the accident as it unfolded. From our dining room windows she saw the car, she saw me turn and run into the street, and she dashed for the front door. By the time she opened it I was in the air and she saw me land flat on my back. She was at that moment embroiled in her worst nightmare and powerless to control whatever was to happen next. Pure despair.
Her trauma was far worse than mine because she knew how close she had been to losing me. I, on the other hand, learned to cross streets safely but had no appreciation of the danger I’d been in. I’d learn about it someday, but not right away. I learned no lesson about Death that day.
Fortunately for me, the lady driving the car was going about 15 miles per hour as she drove amongst the playing children. When I darted out right in front of her car, she had no chance to avoid the accident; she saw me for only the briefest of moments before I hit. But because of her caution the collision of my head and shoulder against the front and hood of her car did not do great damage to me (or her car) and she was able to turn the car away from where I fell and quickly stop. If she had done otherwise there’s a good chance I would have been run over.
In the end the net result of my headlong charge into a moving vehicle was an ambulance ride – sirens and all, an egg sized lump on my forehead, a concussion, an over night stay in the hospital for observation, a bunch of new toys when I got home, and a vulnerability to headaches that didn’t go away for the next 20 years.
My first potentially fatal situation was behind me. It could have been far worse.
Just My Luck.
©2016 James Ash