Ouch!! I looked down at the soft flesh on my inner forearm at the line of red that began to appear. Summer on the farm brings a plethora of kittens and this one was a little wild and not willing to be held. The scratch on my arm was evidence of her displeasure at my attempts to catch her. That scratch left a scar that can still be seen today, a physical scar that reminds me of the scars left on many lives later that night.
I emerged from the hayloft with my bleeding arm and in need of some tending. In the driveway in front of our green farmhouse, adults and teens milled around as cars arrived. Laughter and conversation filled the air as teens chose seats. One high school girl invited her younger sister to ride in the car near her, a choice that she would be grateful for the rest of her days. Before long the cars were loaded with laughing, excited youth, eager to be on the road for their evening trip to an area amusement park. One by one the cars pulled out of the driveway and headed south.
Mom tended my arm and she, Dad, and I went about our evening activities. We had supper and then watched tv. A peaceful, normal evening. The green phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen shrilled and the peace turned to chaos. At first the details were confused and the information scant, but as the evening wore on the details became more clear, an accident with serious injuries had occurred.
My Uncle, driving a large Suburban, filled with teens in the days before seatbelts were law and long before the 55 MPH speed limit or even 65 MPH speed limit, had had an accident. One of the tires had blown. He was able to keep the vehicle upright and able to take it to the shoulder where the real mishap occurred. A large road sign had been upended and he was unable to avoid hitting the concrete base, the car rolled. A young woman, sitting in the middle of the front bench seat was thrown from the car and killed instantly. She was a junior in high school. Another young woman’s hand was crushed when the car rolled. A young man had a concussion. My Uncle was lucid and mobile immediately after the accident, able to talk to rescue workers, however he too had suffered a significant head wound and was taken to the hospital in Scranton.
In the days to come I was upset and frightened by the chaos and sadness around me. I was just 8 years old. My parents went to the hospital to be with my Dad’s brother and his family and I slept with my two sisters in their room. They talked about the accident and spelled words I shouldn't hear that described the scene. My sister and her boyfriend went to the funeral of the young woman who was killed. They were somber and very sad. There was so much I didn’t understand, but I felt the fear and the sadness in the adults around me.
We went to church one morning, My Uncle had been in a coma and his life had been hanging in the balance. The call came that the family should come. Most of us attended the same church – my father and all three of his brothers, my siblings, and many cousins. The brothers all left and church felt a little empty that day.
I don’t remember just which day My Uncle died, whether it was that Sunday or soon after, but he did die. A man only in his forties, his first grandchildren just toddlers or infants, some of his children married, some still at home. His passing left a huge hole in our church, in our extended family, and in his immediate family.
I remember the day of the funeral, August 17, 1972 – the day my first niece was born and the day of his son’s birthday. I think it was the first funeral I attended. So much sadness, his body in the casket at the front of the church. The trip to the cemetery where he would be laid to rest near other family members who had gone before him.
At that age I did not understand death or grief. I understood that the adults around me, including my older siblings, were sad. I felt the chaos of sudden death and trauma, the heart wrenching pain of abrupt loss. I felt fear.
A short while after My Uncle died, I was on the front porch of our house and fell and hit my head on something. As head wounds do from even a small cut, it bled heavily. I was terrified. I didn’t understand about brain injuries or head trauma or concussions. I understood that My Uncle had hit his head and that he died. I was certain that I was going to die too. I ran screaming into the house and into my mother's arms, a place of comfort and solace.
As a young child, sudden death meant chaos and fear to me.