ACCIDENT PRONE MAMA
My mother never drove a car in my entire life. She was completely dependent upon my dad for transportation. Or else she walked, or rode a bike. Since her life revolved around home and family, this was really no big deal.
Dad did all of the shopping. I can still see him coming into the house with twenty bags of groceries every week. Dad knew how to shop. He just walked through the store and bought everything. Food, candy, soda, pretzels, potato chips. He was a bread man, so we always had tons of bread and rolls and cakes and brownies.
The kids always ate in shifts. Mom would stand on the front porch and yell, “StevieGeorgieKevinKirkRobynJimmyKimSupper!” We would all hear her from wherever we were playing within a block radius. She would feed the first crew, then send them back outside and bring in the next group.
Now, this next part may be hard to believe. Not many modern mothers would go this far for their children, but Mom was a cut above the rest. Say we were having ham for dinner. She would cook the full course ham dinner and serve that. But say one of the kids didn’t want ham. Say that kid wanted a tuna fish sandwich. Mom would make him or her a tuna fish sandwich. If another kid wanted leftover spaghetti from last night, Mom would make that and give it to them.
She realized the importance of not making every kid eat the same thing for dinner. Each child had their own personality, likes and dislikes. It wasn’t OUR fault we were born into a family of twelve kids. She did not raise a brood of conformists. Just spoiled rotten brats.
No, seriously, this was just the second generation of the family, the one that started with Kim and went on down to Jimmy, the baby. I hear from the older siblings that they actually had a lot of discipline and responsibilities. They had to do chores and obey strict household rules. Not the next generation of kids. I guess Mom was too worn out by the time we came along.
But back to Mom’s driving phobia…. There was a very good reason Mom did not drive, and to understand, we must go back…back to 1959. To the last time my mother was behind the wheel of an automobile.
She was driving Kenny, her oldest boy, home from a Boy Scout meeting one night.
A car approached them in the oncoming lane. Unfortunately, Mom was somewhat over in that lane, but didn’t know it. The two cars scraped against each other, making a horrible noise. It’s possible sparks even flew. I wouldn’t know, since I was at this time in my mother’s womb. Mom didn’t know who was at fault. She asked Kenny who hit who. He didn’t know. It was dark out, and the area was considered unsavory, so Mom decided not to stop. Big mistake…. The occupants of the other car were on their way to the police station, while Mom was leaving the scene of an accident…..
From all accounts of the remaining eyewitnesses (my brother Kenny), my dad went through the roof. He told my mother she could be arrested and go to jail for leaving the scene of an accident.
Dad knew all of the local cops, so he phoned the police station, giving them my mother’s version of events. Unfortunately, the driver of the other car involved had already been to the station and filed a report, alleging Mom was at fault.
Somehow, the whole thing worked out, and Mom never served one day in jail. Except the self-imposed prison of her own fears. She said decades later that all she could think of was that she could have had all her kids in that car, and killed them all in an accident. Her belly was big with me.
Until the day she passed away at age seventy-five, she never drove again. (She didn’t drive that day, either).
Except for one ill fated attempt….
Flash forward to the early 70’s…. It’s nearly fifteen years since Mom was behind the wheel of an automobile. My older sister Donnis thought it would be a good idea if Mom would relearn to drive. If you fall off the horse, get right back on. (If not RIGHT back on, then fifteen years or so later at the latest….) Hey, if Donnis convinced us kids we could fly with invisible pixie dust, who better to trick Mom into driving again?
The idea was they would just take a short spin around the block, Mom behind the wheel, Donnis in the co-pilot’s seat.
The following description of the “accident” is second hand from my sister Donnis. I would love to speak to the neighbors whose property was damaged, but even after all these years I feel too embarrassed to approach them. Also, I’m still fuzzy on just how many neighbors were involved, and exactly who suffered what damage.
By all accounts, Mom made it three quarters of the way around the block before some sort of panic attack occurred. Perhaps a terrible flashback to that awful night in 1959 on that dark road in the unsavory part of town…. Or perhaps an errant squirrel cut across the path of her car. Whatever the cause, Mom managed to lose control of the vehicle, and with her helpless and terrified daughter in the passenger seat beside her, drove it up onto the curb. From there, she continued onto the front lawn of the neighbors’ property, crashing into their birdbath, knocking it over.
Why she didn’t continue on into their living room and finish destroying their entire house is a mystery. Perhaps my sister finally intervened and managed to seize control of the car, or at least the brakes. Or perhaps it was another “angelic rescue mission.” Mom would have liked that thought.
At any rate, no one was harmed. The neighbors whose property suffered the invasion were understanding (at least I never heard of any lawsuit). I’m not sure, but I suspect my sister got behind the wheel to extricate them from the situation, and to drive them the last quarter block home. (Which was a wise move, since Mom was driving without even a learners’ permit….)
Mom ALMOST made it….
Needless to say, she never drove again. Nor did anyone encourage her to.
Her next accident occurred on the Fourth of July, 1965. I was five years old and had just finished Kindergarten. Mom was four months pregnant with Jimmy, her last child. She was 42 years old. About half as old as the house we lived in. The attic floor was not made to walk on, you had to step across on beams. In between was thin, brittle plaster. Anyone hapless enough to put their weight on this plaster “floor” would find themselves on the first floor very quickly.
My best friend Robert DuBois had lived in this house with his family the year before we began renting it. He was my age. He had the misfortune to be playing in this attic, and he fell right through the ceiling. I never knew the fall had killed him and that I had been playing with his ghost until years later…. But that’s another story…. No, actually, the account I heard was that he landed in the bed on the floor below and escaped relatively unharmed.
Not so my poor mother. She was rummaging around the attic looking for something. I was in the bedroom down below.
Next there was a terrible noise, and suddenly Mom came crashing through the ceiling, sending chunks of plaster and a huge cloud of dust into the bedroom. She only fell through up to her chest, and she dangled there with her arms up over her head, looking like a big stuffed rag doll.
It was horrible seeing her like that, as it was the first time I had ever seen either of my parents hurt. (Dad was injured in front of my eyes years later when an aerosol can shot out of the fire while he burned trash in the back yard, slamming into his leg like a missile. He dropped to the ground as though shot. But that looked kind of cool, actually, due to the rocket effect of the flying aerosol can.)
My dad came running into the room, alerted by the commotion. I can’t remember if he went upstairs and lifted Mom out of the new hole she had made in the ceiling, or if he pulled her the rest of the way down, but she did not look good. She was scraped and bruised badly on her sides, and semi-conscious.
Dad wrapped her limp form in a sheet, and one of the older boys helped carry her out to the car, each one grabbing an end of the sheet, Mom in the middle. I guess Dad was afraid to move her any other way, in case there was internal bleeding. It looked like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. All we needed was a thunderstorm. In fact, I think there may have been one.
When a neighbor asked what happened, and why our mother was being carried to the car in a sheet by my dad and brother, my sister Kimberly answered as we were instructed to. She told the neighbor our dad was simply taking our mom to the custard stand for ice cream. (Don’t ask me why we were instructed to give that story. Frankly, no one bought it).
Mom was rushed to Underwood Hospital, and treated at the emergency room. She was sent home later in the day. By then, the fun had pretty much worn off of this Fourth of July.
She was sore for awhile, and big purple bruises showed up from her ribs down, where she had fallen through. But miraculously, other than a few scrapes and bruises, mother and yet-unborn son were fine. (Another instance where baby Jimmy was spared disaster. The doctor wanted to abort him, Mom falls through the attic while pregnant with him, he nearly suffocated to death in his playpen, and finally fell out the window. All before he was two. The guardian angel stuff doesn’t sound so far-fetched after all. Maybe he WILL be President someday, as my parents joked….)
The final episode of poor Mom’s misfortunes (at least for this story) occurred when I was in seventh grade. It was a cold December day, just a few weeks before Christmas. She was outside on a ladder cleaning windows. (Times and seasons meant nothing at our house, if a cold December day was when Mom had time to clean the windows, that was when they got cleaned).
Somehow, she fell off the ladder and broke her leg in five places. I was home from school faking sick again (hey, I had a ton of comic books to catch up on….) and my older brother George happened home from college. He rushed her to the emergency room.
I remember her wearing that cast a good solid year. She hobbled around on crutches. I truly wish I could say that we kids were helpful or better behaved that year, but I don’t remember any of that sort of thing at all. I do remember getting on her nerves so bad once while she was cooking a big pot of soup that she splashed some on herself and was burned. She really let me have it then. Either she chased me, even with the cast on, or I just remember it that way because she screamed at me so much. My brother George was there, and he really yelled at me,too.
This was a turning point in my life, as I knew I had gone too far, and crossed a line of misbehavior beyond even my mothers’ tolerance. I didn’t change my behavior, I just knew I had crossed a line.
While still wearing that cast, Mom and Jimmy went on a trip to Disneyworld with my oldest brother Kenny and his family. They drove from New Jersey by van. Kenny, her oldest son, was about twenty-five, her baby now about six. Her granddaughter Melissa was about three or four. I understand these kids bumped into her bad leg several times a day during this trip, playing and running around the van. There were no seat-belt laws in those days.
I don’t know why Mom finally stopped having babies. For a while there, it looked like she never would. Her firstborn arrived in 1946, her baby in 1966. She bore children throughout the forties, fifties and sixties. Then baby-sat grandchildren.
Her last job in her sixties was working in a day-care center near our home. Every day she walked the few blocks to the center and gave her love to the babies and children there.
I remember her bringing photos of the children home and putting them on her dresser mirror. She knew each one by name, and talked about each one, and how they were doing.
She may have been accident-prone at times, but Mom was not here by accident.
I really miss her.
Copyright © 2004 Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007