My cousin recently sent me some pictures of my dad. Her dad and my dad used to spend time together in those early adult years. It included mostly pictures of him, my parents wedding picture and an early picture of my brother and I.
I am not embarrassed to be a little emotional about handling these pictures. I am, however, surprised at the thoughts that flood back by just handling these pictures. Since my dad was killed in a car accident nearly 30 years ago (He was killed before the first space shuttle blew up in January 1986.), I will not try and convince myself I have thought of him every day during that time. I do think of him on his birthday, holidays, and usually the anniversary of his death. Some times my kids will have a particularly special moment or I will see a man my age with his dad nearby. It is during these times I get much more reflective on what really happened when he was killed.
It was a Sunday night in January of 1986. (It was MLK day eve.) My roommates and myself had driven home to Marysville for lunch w/ my mom. My dad was not there. After my brother and I had joined the National Guard, my dad thought it was a good idea to rejoin the military as a reservist. (He would need to be in the reserves for 14 years to be able to retire with 20 years – he had 6 years in the National Guard when he enlisted after High School.) On this weekend, he was doing one of his “weekends” at the base in Columbus. It would have been good to see him, but he enjoyed getting away and serving his country as a reservist.
I don’t believe we stayed that long before we headed back to Worthington. The weather was supposed to get a little bad, so we wanted to get back. I don’t remember much between then and THE phone call. My brother called and said, “Dad was in an accident. It sounds really bad.”
The roads were not great getting to the hospital, but it was major roads, so going to the hospital was not too bad–as long as I was patient. When I got to the hospital (I am pretty sure I went to the ER), it didn’t take long to figure out how bad it really was. I was routed into a special room. I believe my mother and the pastor were there. Under hypnosis I am sure I could remember more, but the lasting image I have is seeing my dad dead on the gurney with a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth.
The accident took place in the county he spent his whole life. As he was driving home from his reserve drill, he always liked to take the country roads. Unfortunately, these roads were not very well salted. The freezing rain that covered the road was not very merciful. Whether it was 1/2 inch or an full inch thick, it doesn’t matter. There was no traction to be found. As he went into a turn on the country road, it appears he lost control of the car. (My dad was a Safety Engineer at The Scotts company. He ran programs to make sure employees wore their seat belts. I am sure he was wearing the belt on this day, too.) He was driving west and went into a counter-clockwise spin; the car coming the other direction hit him pretty square on the rear passenger panel. It appears his seat broke and would not support his back. (The seat didn’t break off. It was the “lock” on the seat that controls the angle the seat leaned. When these gears were stripped (or whatever they are called), the seat left his body no choice but to fly backwards.) When the seat gave way, he couldn’t go forward because of the seat-belt, so he flew backward into the backseat. Based on his neck being broken, it seems his neck hit the backseat and killed him almost immediately.
The funeral was the easy part. It was everything that came after the funeral. My dad fixed things. He took care of all of the financial things. And, my mother did what she could for us kids, but she truly grieved for months and years. This effected our family for many years. I have looked back at that time with little affection. It was a very difficult time. I believe the scars of his death haunted me well into my marriage.