In my daughters words…
The preface to this book as told to me by my daughter, Anna, who was twelve at the time of the crash.
A week prior to Dad’s accident on July 30, 1988, I was having bad dreams about him. I mean, I wasn’t having different dreams, it was always the same dream but it kept repeating itself over and over, again and again. The dream proved to be a premonition but at the time I didn’t know what was going’ on. When I think back to that day, I think God was preparing me for what was about to happen. I realize that some do not believe in, ESP, and I don’t think I do; but were those dreams just coincidental?
We were a family of four, and happy. I was twelve and my sister, Angela, was thirteen. Dad worked all the time but a couple years before the wreck, Mom talked him into taking a vacation. We drove in Grandpa’s fancy van to the Ozark Mountains and Dogpatch U.S.A.; an amusement park near Harrison, Arkansas. We spent that night at a motel with a swimming pool.
The next day we went to Dogpatch. The buildings were constructed to have a dilapidated look. Li’l Abner comic strip brought to life with him chasing his Daisy Mae, Grandma with her corncob pipe hanging out of her mouth and the rest of the characters from the Li’l Abner comic strip were all there.
We drove from there to visit my Great Grandma and Grandpa who lived further south in Perryville, Arkansas. Dad showed us their little town and also how the people had a more laid back attitude about things. On our return trip we went to and spent the night in an old Victorian-looking town…Eureka Springs.
But you know it really didn’t matter what we did. I remember pulling weeds in the garden; come to think of it that was not fun, so maybe not that. Though, when Mom and Dad were down there with us even that was enjoyable…what a love they had! They were always joking and fooling around; kissing and hugging constantly.
One night as I lay on the carpeted floor holding my head up with my hands watching television, I began crying. Dad who was sitting on the couch in his white work clothes asked, “What’s the matter Anna?” I sobbed harder, “Come ‘ere Anna; now sit on my lap and tell me what’s wrong.”
I was not able to talk because I couldn’t stop crying. Dad rubbed my back and head and that soothed me. I finally caught my breath as I gasped between spurts of sobbing and then I told Dad… “I’ve been having some really bad dreams about you.”
“Oh yeah?” I thought he’d laugh at me but he didn’t. Instead he asked, “What were the dreams about Anna”, whew I can breathe again. But I was afraid, afraid to tell him because maybe the dreams would come true then. The nightmares were so terrible! I just bowed my head and cried even harder…”I can’t say Dad.”
“Well don’t worry they were only dreams. Nothing’s going to happen to me. I promise, okay? Now off to bed and rest easy; I love you Anna.”
We hugged and I told Dad that I loved him too; he kissed my forehead and I quietly went off to bed. Exhausted from the gut-wrenching sobs I fell asleep almost immediately. That same dream came again but this time was really clear: (I got off the school bus and walked up the long, brown-gravel drive to the house. I stepped inside and went to hang my coat up in the entry closet. When I opened that door…I saw my father hanging by his neck. I screamed (in my dream?)
Angie didn’t mention a scream the next morning and she slept in the room right across the narrow hall. In fact, nobody mentioned it so I guess it was only in the dream. It was just another day for them…but I know my dad hung himself because it was just too clear. Looking back to that day five years ago, in a way, I guess you could say that he had hung himself. Always driving fast like he always did! So many people had told him to slow it down, but Dad seemed to get a thrill out of going fast; I don’t think he could slow down..
Sirens blared in the distance but I assumed those sounds were coming from the nearby racetrack, Cedar Lake Speedway. (When the wind came from that direction toward our house the loud car engines could be heard.) I heard the sirens before on Saturday nights, the sounds were familiar. Then my friend, Gary Peterson, rode up the driveway on his bike with a flat tire. Angela and I were in the front yard.
Gary’s face was sad and heavy looking. He jumped off his bike, let it roll and ran to us. He started talking from a distance…”I think you two better sit down a minute.”
“Why,” Amanda asked? But I already knew that something happened to my dad.
“Your dad’s been in a bad accident. He went off the road and flew out of the car! He hit his head and he’s hurt real bad. The ambulance is up there right now by Goose Lake Road and Double C.”
My mind had a weird, noisy but blank feeling. Gary kept talking, but I was no longer hearing. Those first words out of his mouth were all I could hear over and over and over: “Bad accident, bad accident. Hit his head, hit his head.” How bad?
Angela burst into tears – I began running. I had to get to Dad. Angela ran with me. We had to find our dad. Gary was behind us, not able to keep up.
We got to Dad’s car and many people were standing around whispering and pointing, but Dad was gone. He was already taken to the hospital, the one in New Richmond, the people said. Our neighbor Pam grabbed onto us and said, “Oh you poor girls! Let me take you to the hospital!”
By the time we got there Dad was gone again. He had already been taken by helicopter to another hospital, a bigger one. Way off in Minneapolis somewhere. Pam took us home.
We got home and Mom was there. She grabbed onto us both. Mom hugged us with all her might…then she hollered, “Where have you two been? Your father’s been in a bad accident! I want you to get your things right now! I am driving you to Grandma’s for the night.”
I was afraid so I hurried as fast as I could. Mom took me and Angela to Grandma’s in St. Paul and dropped us off. Then she went onto the hospital to see Dad.
Angela was lying on the couch at Grandma’s – screaming and crying. To this day that scene is crystal clear. “Can you help me get Angela calmed down?” grandma asked our aunt Peggy. “And poor little Anna must be in shock,” grandma said. She probably thought I was because I was just watching the T.V. screen, not really knowing what was on and not caring. I believe I had already gone through my deep grieving in those dreams. As I look back on those times, I think they all felt the most sorry for me.
“Here Peggy wet this cloth with cold water again.” She peeled the cloth from Angela’s head and handed it to Peggy, “He’ll be all right Angela!” Try to lie still. God is watching over him. Do you want something to drink hon?” She wiped Angela’s forehead with the cool cloth.
Through the years I’ve seen my dad’s life change in a dramatic way. Prior to the crash – Dad was a dare-devil and out for a good time. Like when he had his motorcycle. I heard him talking to Mom and boasting of how he sped along a straight stretch of road on County C…at 110 M.P.H.
“Nance it felt great, the hot weather, the wind against your body! It’s the first time I felt good riding that thing – I wanted to give it more and more gas — I didn’t want to stop!” And Dad never wore a helmet. He seemed fearless… Mom would get mad at him for his antics.
“You’re going to kill yourself on that thing Steve!” And one time when his friend, Nick, was over he told Dad the same thing, only about the car not the motorcycle.
“Aw Nance, I know what I’m doing. I am going to get rid of it anyway because I like driving a car better. You can’t even smoke while you’re moving, well you can but you have to cup it. It’s like smoking in the bathroom at school; it’s not relaxing at all. I don’t understand why people like motorcycles; they’re uncomfortable. I feel clean (not eating bugs) and more at ease. I’ll be selling the bike soon.” Then my dad would just laugh. He took one too many chances though.
His temper was scary. I remember Dad teaching me to ride my bike. When his patience ran out he said, “I think I’ll give this bike to a kid who isn’t afraid to learn Anna! You’re going to take a few spills! I did, everybody does! You have to get back on and try again. It’s all a part of learning to ride.”
I rode the bike home from the church parking lot, Mom and Angie behind me. A whole block without falling! Dad was a little way from our house walking on the sidewalk. I was riding proudly behind him on the street, “Hey Dad,” I yelled!
“That’s great Anna keep going, but be careful…you’re really doing good! Slow it down”
I could sense his feeling of pride but I had to yell back, “I don’t know how!” I crashed in our front yard.
Nowadays Dad leads a more careful life. Every time he goes for a ride in his car his seat-belt is always on, and when I’m with him, he makes me wear one too.
Since the accident I am aware of the difference the belt makes. Mike, Dad’s friend who was in the passenger seat had his fastened and went to work the next day. Years later and my dad still can’t work just because he wasn’t strapped in.
Dad’s always been a hard worker, but now, he also has patience. Dad can and does sit at the computer for hours writing his story. I’m so proud of him; when he first told me that he was going to write a book about what happened I said, “Sure Dad” but he did it – he stuck with it! Many people say they’re going to write a book but my dad did! I tell him how proud I am of him, but it seems that he cannot accept praise, no matter how small.
Dad has come a long way since that hot summer day in 1988. He and I have grown closer since the accident; we now can have meaningful conversations, but prior to the wreck I was afraid to even ask him a question. I am not saying Dad was abusive in any way, no – far from that! I just didn’t feel as close to him as I did my mother. My sister Angela had a better relationship with Dad than I did. Maybe the reason I had a fear of him was because he was the disciplinarian.
There’s something about his life now that’s almost incredible…He’s lost family, friends, possessions, and even some physical abilities; most would have given up but not my dad! I never would have thought that we’d be sitting here together writing a story, Dad’s story…he is amazing!