Can I ever forget Arthur Franks who liked to tease me in junior high at Cumberland. As I slapped at him one day, he took a defensive position with a sharp pencil. The lead still embedded in my ring finger of my right hand reminds me of him and his Woody Woodpecker calls.
I have another strange scar on my right knee, and this one has coal dust embedded in it. I frequently played on the coal tipple that Jim Corum’s father owned that ran over my grandmother Viva Adams’ property. A stray piece of corrugated metal jumped out of nowhere one day and slashed three parallel lines on my knee as a warning that when flesh meets metal, the flesh is in a no-win situation.
As a freshman at Cumberland High School, we always raced out of the gym following meetings. At the front of the pack one day, I put my hand on a small pane of glass in the exterior door. Someone pushed me from behind, the glass broke, my hand went through and I have a one and a half-inch scar to remember that day. A trip to Uncle Doc Fields, no stitches, just a bandage. Now a scar and knowledge that safety glass is currently used in schools.
I’ve already described the way that Dr. Ahmad saved my fingers when I sliced them with a knife (another example of flesh meeting metal), so I’ll tell you about the day I broke my second cervical vertebrae — my neck — and that might let you know why I hibernate during snowy weather.
I was almost 27 years old at the time, and to save money, we bought a VW Bug, traded in our big gas-guzzling 1959 Buick, which we had bought new from the Disney’s at the Black Motor Company in Cumberland (These were in the days when many American-made cars had short life spans filled with problems).
It was early May and the day was beautiful. I was working in my modest flower garden when it started to snow. My teaching schedule at Urbana College did not require that I be there that day, but with the snow, I thought, Why not? I can get work done there that I wouldn’t do at home.
I only know what happened that day because a truck driver was behind me on that snow-covered road, saved my life that day, and delivered a piece of furniture two weeks later to our house and told me what had happened.
I was driving along, no seat belt, on a road that sloped up and down, allowing for wind tunnels to develop. VW Bugs are lightweight; the snow was wet and coming down fast. A blast of wind picked that car up and took it to the side of the road in a slide. When the car took out a sapling of significant size, the door flew open and threw me out down a steep embankment and into a stream of water with the car following and landing on my shoulder where it collapsed like an accordion.
I never knew the trucker’s name, but he pulled me from the water and radioed for an ambulance which took me to first one hospital and then another. When Blanche Dubois says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I know the full import of Williams’ line.
This all happened at 9 a.m. and the next time I awakened, it was evening. I was packed in sandbags in a hospital bed with my husband, my mother, and my father surrounding my bed.
I had an excellent orthopedic surgeon; I was young; I was physically fit. My recovery was good and six weeks later when the plastic brace came off, I went swimming.
Our scars, our bruises and bumps, our breaks, both literal and figurative, are important for us as we realize that none of us is exempted from what it is to be a human being. It’s important for all of us to know that life is not easy, that we need to identify and embrace what sustains us. Also, we should teach our children these lessons, lessons that are critical for us to repeat to ourselves when we are thinking, “Woe is me. Why did this happen to me? Life isn’t fair.”
And always if we’re fortunate, those kind strangers or our friends and family, good Samaritans, will appear when we need them most. And we, in turn, should do the same.