Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 13, 2012

"Finally got so I could get it off my mind ..."

When the woman drove into our farm driveway, Dad knew immediately it wasn't a social visit.

They left together just seconds later, heading north out of Burns. His mind was racing and his heart was pounding.

Just minutes passed before he could see the car ... or what was left of it. It didn't look much like it did when it left the farm just a few minutes earlier.

"No one could live through that," was his first thought.

Mom, brother Dave, sister Gaila and I were in that car and we all lived through it.

A few days ago, Mom, Gaila and I briefly lived through it again. We were going through an old trunk of Mom's and came across an envelope labeled "Wreck info and letters 1964." Cards from family members and friends as well as a newspaper clipping with pictures about the May 16 accident were in the over-stuffed envelope.

There was also a several-page letter from dad. He had written it to his father and brothers to explain what had happened.

I'm pretty certain the others still think about it from time to time. I know I do. Every once in awhile, we discuss "the wreck." But seeing the pictures and reading the account in black and white somehow brought it back more vividly.

We were all injured. Dave, only 16 at the time, was driving. Mom was in the front passenger seat. Gaila and I, 9 and 10, were in the back seat reading. Mom and I were going to routine doctor appointments in Marion. Dave had offered to drive so he could get clothes for Boys' State. Gaila came along just for the ride.

A few minutes into the trip, I heard Dave say, "What's that guy doing anyway?"

I turned to my right to put my book on the seat, intending to then look over the front seat to see what he was talking about.

I didn't get the chance. Dave set the brakes hard and then we crashed.

A few seconds of silence followed.

Then moans. Gaila began crying.

I think I did too, but I'm not sure.

My left shoulder hurt, but for the most part, Gaila and I seemed to be OK.

But Dave's face was bleeding. The steering wheel was right up against his chest. I knew he was badly hurt.

I looked over the front seat. Mom was on the floor, but her head was resting on the seat. There was a lot of blood. It was dripping from her chin.

I spoke to her. Her eyes were open, but she didn't respond. I thought she was dead.

Gaila and I struggled to get out of the car, but the doors were jammed.

I recall our yelling for help, but crying too.

I don't remember how long it was before someone arrived.

Somehow, the back door was opened and a neighbor took Gaila and me and put us in her car. We stopped at another friend's home and picked her up before rushing to the hospital.

Dad wrote that later a single ambulance arrived. Mom was placed on the stretcher. Dave and the couple from the other car had to sit up on the way to the hospital.

Mom had suffered a skull fracture and had to lie on her back for 15 days. During the first few days, she drifted back and forth between being conscious and unconscious. Dave had broken his left thigh. He had a pin in it for a year. He also suffered jagged facial and chest lacerations. I had a separated clavicle. Gaila suffered a whiplash injury.

We all had bruises and cuts.

The college students in the other car were headed to Winfield to apply for summer jobs. The man was driving and, according to his account, he was adjusting the radio dial to a different station, when he unwittingly crossed the centerline. He had a severely broken leg and the young woman, although thrown from their car, escaped without any significant injuries.

That happened 48 years ago, but when I think about the accident now, the first thing that comes to mind is not the injuries or what the other driver did or did not do. Instead, I think about Dad. I think about what it must have been like for him ... how on a perfectly ordinary day, suddenly he was facing the real possibility that his entire family was gone.

In some way, I think it affected him for the rest of his life. In his letter, he said it took him a week to 10 days to get over the shock of the wreck.

"Finally got so I could get it off my mind part of the time," he wrote.

Dad was always a good eater, so I was surprised to read, "I couldn't eat anything much for quite awhile."

It may have affected me as well. When kids in my high school class reached the age when they could drive, they were excited at the prospect.

But I wasn't.

Husband Art enjoys driving and thinks nothing of making the 13-hour trip by himself to Wisconsin.

But I drive only out of necessity.

Maybe I would have been the same if the wreck had never occurred. Maybe it is all my imagination.

Whatever the answer is, I'm just thankful we survived.

Photo of our car taken after the wreck.

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