I wasn’t in the car when it happened. Scott was by himself. I have been in my share of bump-ups, however.
Several years ago Scott and I were headed south on I-95 one New Year’s Day. Traffic was bumper to bumper with all the college bowl game traffic. It was stop and go traffic. Some stopped, we didn’t. No one was hurt, but the car had to be towed. It was an I-told-you-so opportunity about following too close, but I never said it. Scott felt guilty enough without it.
Longer ago than that, Scott was driving me back to work after a midday appointment we had together. Another car ran a red light and smashed into the driver’s side of our car. Scott was bruised but OK. At the scene, I tried to be a nice person and offer the offending driver use of Scott’s cell phone. When the cops showed up, she denied running the red light. I wasn’t hurt, but I was angry. Our car was totaled.
With the money from my first job out of college I bought a red Ford Mustang. I was driving through a parking lot at a slow speed when a younger-than-I student backed out of a parking space with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. She smashed the passenger side of my cute little car. I wasn’t hurt, but it did make me sick.
My most memorable wreck happened when I was a preschooler. My Aunt Alma was driving. Technically she is a cousin, not an Aunt, but she was the grandmotherly type and for all practical purposes my nanny until I finished the 3rd grade. Calling her “Aunt” just felt more right because she seemed closer than a cousin.
I was riding in the front seat on the passenger side of her sedan. Aunt Alma’s adult daughter Rosalou was sitting in the back seat holding her own newborn infant in her arms. This was before the days of child safety seats and seat belt laws.
It was a sunny day in Florida, but it was cold. I was wearing my favorite red coat. I had my head turned, looking out the passenger window. I was barely tall enough to see out of it.
A drunk driver coming from the opposite direction swerved over into our lane and crashed into us head on. I remember hearing tires screech and some other loud noise. I can still feel my head bouncing back and forth several times off of the window I’d been peering out of. Then I remember a crowd of people and a lot of yelling.
The wreck happened near an intersection of a four land road. On one of the corners of that intersection was a gas station. It was long enough ago that it was still a full service gas station; one where they actually worked on cars. Somebody from that station handed me a greasy red rag filled with ice and told me to hold it on my right eye and not let go. The gasoline smell of the greasy red rag almost took my breath away. Still today, every time I smell gasoline I think of that greasy red ice filled rag.
I remember Aunt Alma standing around telling everyone she was OK, but that her glasses had flown off her face with the impact. Could somebody please help her find her glasses? Rosalou seemed to be OK too and her baby, who had had somehow ended up on the floorboard by her feet, seemed unphased.
I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. If I road in an ambulance, I don’t remember it. I do remember that once we got there, there was not a single familiar face anywhere to be seen. Alma had gone to tend to Rosalou and the baby, who was also brought to the hospital for evaluation. My mom and dad were at work; my sisters were both at school. I was surrounded by a bunch of nice but unknown scurrying strangers. They made me lie down on a cold table and then they put my head in a green foam form so that it would be immobile for the x-rays or scans or whatever it was they were going to do to me.
Once they determined I was OK except for the busted up eyebrow and a swollen, black eye, they put me up on a high table or counter out near the reception area. It seemed like the top shelf of a very high cabinet. It might not have actually been that high, but to my 4 year old legs dangling over the edge, the floor seemed like a long way down. Way too far to jump. I sat there for what seemed like a long time not saying anything to anyone; just waiting.
From my perch I could see automatic glass doors which must have been the public entrance to the ER. The bright sunshine was beaming from outside through those doors. They kept swishing open and I could feel the cold air sweeping in. People were going in and out of those doors but because the sun was so bright outside and the lighting was dim inside I saw only dark silhouettes. I couldn’t really see any faces or physical details.
Like the top shelf I was sitting on, I’m sure my 4 year old brain exaggerated the length of that lonely wait too. It felt like forty forevers that I sat there by myself, speechless, in my favorite red coat, with my legs dangling over, still smelling the gasoline scent, waiting on someone to help me down and tell me what to do next.
I eventually saw a familiar shape coming through the bright light of the swishing automatic doors. I didn’t have to see her face. I recognized my mother simply by the shadowed shape of her hair and hips as she ran towards me.
I don’t remember anything else about that day. Mom showed up, scooped me up off that high counter and that was all. It was over. Everything was OK. Nothing that had happened in the previous few hours mattered any more.
That happened 40 years ago. I remember those details more vividly than I remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.
I remember feeling pretty in my favorite red coat.
I remember seeing and squinting at the brightness of the sun.
I remember hearing Alma’s voice as she kept asking for her glasses.
I remember smelling the gasoline rag.
What’s interesting is what I don’t remember. I have absolutely no recollection of pain. None. I know I must have ended up with one heck of a headache, but the only physical feeling I remember is finally having my mother’s arms around me.
There have been other kinds of wrecks in my life, not having anything to do with cars or roadways. A good many of those were my own fault. Even when it was my own fault, my mother never said so. Even if we were living miles apart, I somehow still knew her arms were around me.
Mom has had a rough time lately. The shatters and smashes she’s fallen into are merely the results of living on this earth 80 years. She is brave. She is strong. She is full of grace.
Mom, I don’t know if my hugs will ever mean to you what yours mean to me. I can’t be with you on Mother’s Day, but I want you to know my arms are stretched as far as they can be reaching for you.
I love you.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11