Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 23, 2014

A perfect day - well, not quite

May 2 dawned bright and beautiful - a perfect day to drive to Council Grove to help Aunt Edith celebrate her 94th birthday. I called Mom first to see if she felt well enough to visit her sister. She had recently completed eight weeks of radiation treatments so I didn't know if she'd feel up to it.

"Oh, sure!" was her quick answer. "When are you coming to get me?"

Then I called Edith.

"Would you like some visitors on your birthday?" I asked.

Her response was just as quick as Mom's.

"That would be lovely," she said.

Mom and I enjoyed the drive through the Flint Hills. Recent controlled burning meant the rolling hills were beginning to turn a bright spring green. Edith was ready for lunch when we arrived, so we headed straight for the Trail Days Caf´┐Ż, a refurbished 1860s-era home filled with historical photographs and artifacts. We all ordered the salmon patties, wondering why we didn't cook them for ourselves more often.

After lunch, we "visited" Uncle Bud at the cemetery, waving and saying "hi" when we reached his gravestone. From the cemetery, we headed east through town and then went north to view the lilac-colored redbuds along the lake. Later, we stopped at the Rerun Shop. It has an eclectic assortment of antiques, collectibles and clothing and is a must-stop for Edith every time we're in town. I admit I like to wander around among the books, dishes and other odds and ends.

Mom was getting tired by that time, so after saying our "goodbyes," I honked the horn on the Cadillac and pulled away, driving east again on Main Street. A large red pickup stopped in front of me - I surmised for a pedestrian or for a car backing out of a road-edge parking stall - and so I stopped too.

I lifted my foot off the brake as the truck began to move. In the blink of an eye, I rear-ended the pickup! I'm not certain if the truck stopped again or I just thought it had begun to move.

"Damn, damn, damn!"

Husband Art and our daughters agree that I swear more than he does. But while it is still a rare event, it certainly seemed appropriate at that instant.

Mom then helped my state of mind by asking, "What did you do that for?"

Now how should I answer that? Did she think I had planned to do it?

I was mad at myself and worried about Mom. I started to pull the Cadillac over to the curb to get out of the way of traffic, but two women watching from the curb ran over to tell me not to because the front bumper had come off the car and was on the ground in front of it. (It wasn't really the bumper, but the plastic bumper cover, but they were close enough.)

I asked them to call the police. Soon enough, the local police chief was there. I guess not too much happens in Council Grove as I doubt many places have the chief show up for a fender bender.

He asked me what happened, requested the registration and insurance information and made sure Mom and I were OK. An ambulance crew came soon after to see if either of us or the other driver had been injured. Mom complained that her chest hurt - and we presumed she was bruised slightly from the seat belt.

The impact was small enough that it didn't hurt any of us. But it did do a number on the Cadillac! The hood was crumpled and the car was leaking antifreeze - probably because the truck had a hitch on the back that had gone through the grill, hit the air conditioning condenser coil and pushed it into the radiator.

And the truck? Not a scratch!

I kept telling myself it could have been worse, but somehow it didn't make me feel any better. I called husband Art and said, "Well, I have some bad news."

He told me later that the first thing he thought of was that someone we knew had died. I think he was relieved with the actual news. We agreed it was best to contact a local tow truck driver to get the Cadillac back to Manhattan.

He arrived right away. I asked if Mom and I could get a ride with him. He said we could, but that we'd have to wait until after 5 because he had another job to finish.

I knew the other alternative was to have Art come get us, but we'd still have to somehow get the car towed home. So I opted to wait. Our busy police chief kindly offered to take us to Edith's.

Edee was shocked to see us again, but glad we were OK. She did say that she was going to pretend she didn't know me if a blurb appeared in the local paper about the accident.

I tried to stay calm while we waited for the tow truck, but I was jittery. And then I remembered that I wasn't even sure what the tow-truck driver's name or phone number were! I finally sorted that out and called again. He was very patient with me.

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I'll be there in about 20 minutes."

He stopped in front of Edith's apartment building, and Mom and I went out to climb in. And climb was the right word, too. I had to push Mom up the high steps into the passenger seat and then crawled over her to sit in the middle, balancing her walker in front of me.

The driver was very pleasant, making casual conversation and waving at every second or third driver he met. I thought, "That's a great thing about small towns - everyone from the women bystanders on the street to the police chief helps out in times of trouble."

Of course, there is another side as well. In a small town, everyone talks about what happens to everybody else, so I'm sure what began as Edee's 94th birthday adventure became the topic of conversation the remainder of the day.

But looking back on it, while I'm not someone who likes the spotlight, it was OK. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

The Cadillac being unloaded at the Manhattan dealership.

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