The Closet


In Daughter, Anna’s,  Words…

Anna was twelve at the time of the crash.

My beautiful, Anna Marie
My beautiful, Anna Marie

A week before Dad’s accident on July 31, 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 then 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 of years before the wreck Mom talked him into taking a vacation. We drove in Grandpa’s fancy van to the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas and spent a day at “Dogpatch U.S.A.” an amusement park near Harrison, Arkansas. We spent that night at a motel with a swimming pool.

After dinner at, and I haven’t forgotten the name of the restaurant because it’s the same name as the rice Dad buys — Jasmine.  It wasn’t Chinese or Korean, hmm, oh that’s right it was a Thai restaurant and was it ever good!  We headed back to the motel after dinner and Angie and I ran inside to get into our bathing suits.  Well I don’t need to tell you that my sister and I were as tired as Dad, I think.

Dad drove non-stop from our place in rural New Richmond, Wisconsin about eight hundred miles he said.  He was sleeping when Mom, Angie and I came in from the pool.  I think we all fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. The next day, Angie and I didn’t get up until about ten but Mom and Dad were already up of course and had the suitcases loaded in the van.  We each showered and Dad seated himself outside to have a smoke while waiting for us.  Finally we finished getting ready and went out to where Dad was, looking at the van.  It was already hot out so Dad turned the air conditioning on in the van and we were off to get breakfast.  Once at the restaurant, I got pancakes of course as did Angie, Mom just had biscuits and gravy and Dad had sausage and eggs and of course coffee.

After that we drove some more, but not to far as we pulled into the huge parking lot of Dogpatch.  You should have seen it — from the parking lot we could see a great big building with a roof that was sunk in the center and there was even a jackass on it…not for real of course.  The buildings were constructed to have a dilapidated look.  After all, it was a comic strip brought to life Dad said, though I could never remember reading it and Dad said they quit publishing it in 1977 and I was only born two years earlier in 1975.  

Dad had wanted me and Angie to kiss in front of these rocks...
Dad had wanted me and Angie to kiss in front of these rocks…

Apparently this guy, L’l Abner was always chasing, Daisy Mae, his blonde sweetheart and his grandma was always smoking a corncob pipe that hung out of her mouth.  They were hillbillies and I guess that hillbillies are backwards people who rarely if ever got out of the mountains of the Ozarks.  Dad said the rest of the characters from the Li’l Abner comic strip were all there as well.  I mainly remember a lot of people chasing somebody else and “Fearless Fosdick” (the cop) arresting them and there were many animals, goats, chickens, ducks, geese…It was like we were right in the comic strip Dad said.  After spending a relaxing day there…well Dad was always in a hurry.

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  how the people had a

Eureka Springs - Just beautiful as is the city.
Eureka Springs – Just beautiful as is the city.

more laid back attitude about life.

On our return trip we went to and spent the night in an old Victorian-looking town…Eureka Springs.  Dad kept saying, “Look at that” well to me it was just another pretty painted house with as Dad called it — gingerbread, fancy wood spindles and curly cues up at the peaks and at the corners of the homes. Though I didn’t care about that but the homes were beautifully painted.

But you know it really didn’t matter what we did because I recall 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, swatting each other on the butt, they were so funny.

Then, 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 can fix it!”

But 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, scary dreams.”

“Oh yeah?” I thought he’d laugh at me but he didn’t. Instead he asked, “What were the dreams about Anna,” and I let out a big sigh of relief, whew I can breathe again. But I was afraid, afraid to tell him because maybe the dreams would come true then. That dream that kept repeating itself was so terrible!  I bowed my head lower and cried even harder…”I can’t tell Dad.”

“Well don’t worry they were only dreams,” he said, “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 the garage door was left open; I could see Dad’s truck in there and I wondered what he was doing home?  I continued walking 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 though…I saw Dad hanging there. I screamed, but I guess only in the dream.

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 did even after so many told him to slow it down, but Dad seemed to get a thrill out of going fast and I don’t think he could drive any other way.

Sirens were blaring in the distance but I thought those sounds were coming from the nearby racetrack, Cedar Lake Speedway; sirens were heard on many a Saturday night and 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 and it was about eight in the evening but still light out as we were on daylight savings time.  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,” Angie 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 though he was obviously trying.  We got to Dad’s car and many people were standing around whispering and pointing, but Dad was gone. He’d already been taken to the hospital, the one in New Richmond, the people said. Our neighbor Pam grabbed onto us and said, “Oh you poor little 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 now! I’m taking you to Grandma’s for the night.”  I was afraid so I hurried as fast as I could. Mom took me and Angie to Grandma’s in St. Paul and hurriedly and she must have watched for us because Aunt Peggy came flying out of their house to meet us.  Mom helped to get us inside and then left immediately. She drove to see Dad at the hospital.

They had Angie lie on the couch because she was screaming and crying. To this day that scene is crystal clear. “Can you help me get Angie calmed down,” Grandma asked 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 probably had a blank look on my face. And though I didn’t feel I could tell anybody about the dream, I think and believe that dream prepared me for this, well I don’t know?  I had already gone through deep grieving nights before. Still, I think they all felt the most sorry for me.

 

Anna, me, Angela 1980
Anna, me, Angela 1980

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.

Now my Dad leads a more careful life. Every time he goes for a ride in his car his seat-belt is on, and when I’m with him, he makes me wear one too.

Since his life-changing accident I am aware of the difference they make. Mike, Dad’s friend who was in the passenger seat had his seatbelt fastened and went to work the next day with only a black eye. Years later and my dad still can’t work, well, at least not physical work.

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 of 107 degrees on July 31, 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!

Steve Richie

Hi folks, Two lives in one lifetime. The first me, lived to age thirty-four. That Steve was overly confident and oozing with pride. Then, on a record heat-setting day (107º) here in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota and western Wisconsin, a one car near-fatal wreck left me in a two-month long coma. I emerged much as I was before minus certain physical capabilities, but my mind seemed mostly in tact. The crash and its effects did not change me (I emerged a happy individual) but the deeds perpetrated against me in the ensuing months from my wife of sixteen years scared and humbled me as I was dragged down with nothing left by my wife who now had guardianship over all of our accounts. And neither would she allow me to see our kids. She took everything out of, "Our" names and changed them to her name only; then would not allow me to our home and divorced me. I was angry, but no more. I spent half of 1988 and more than half of 1989 in hospitals, nursing homes and a three month stint at a head-injury rehab center where I was being taught how to re-enter society as this different person, that I didn't know. I was not able to return to my previous line of work, a self-employed decorator, you know, painting and paperhanging. It was a physical job which required much dexterity, finesse, and a good grasp of numbers. I returned to the beginning, school, but on a community college level. One of the instructor's liked my writing and I began focusing my attention on that. I attended classes at, "The Loft," A Place for Writers in Minneapolis. While there, a classmate of mine was having her friend from New York, a CBS executive, to her home for the holidays and asked me if she could do a critique on a couple chapters of a book I was writing, "A Day I'll Never Remember" and I obliged. When she returned to class the following Monday she told me that the exec wanted a ten-page synopsis of the book for a possible movie; I was excited. After obliging for that also, I never saw or heard from her or the guy from CBS. Next thing I knew I was watching a movie called, "Regarding Henry" starring Harrison Ford and the scenes of therapy were exactly like what I went through and had written about. Regarding Henry - could've been my story except that, "Henry" got his head injury from a gunshot and his wife stayed with him throughout the ordeal. Coincidence I'm sure, though, the therapy scenes entailed what I described in the book so I always wondered..... My hope, my dream is to bolster our income for my daughter and for myself. I am and have been raising this beautiful, talented little girl who was diagnosed with autism at age two, since 2006 singlehandedly. I divorced her mother the same year following complaints that I spent too much time with our daughter. However, Stephanie began school with no need for special education. She has been reading since age four and understanding what she'd read. Stephanie maintains straight "A's" on her report card, has published two books (through school) and has been selected as an, "Honors" student for seventh grade English. My ex moved to New York to be closer to her sister and has been remarried now for a number of years. Well, that's only a snippet of my sixty-one years and I would like to thank you for reading, thank you.

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