||My Feller Memories|
When these reminiscences were originally posted someone noted that in one of the first narratives I had briefly mentioned our car accident and asked me if I would be willing to write about it. I had planned to do this at some point because it had a major influence, not only on my last two years at Feller, but on the rest of my life. I had been holding off since this is a very personal story; i.e., even more self-involved than usual (I know some of you are saying how could that be possible) and I was concerned that if I got started I would go on and on and bore everyone to tears. I also felt that I couldnít actually provide much insight into the impact it had on the rest of the school, so it was going to be one of the last things I worked on. However, someone brought it up, so here goesÖ
It was relatively common for Feller students to travel to Montreal and participate in services at First Baptist Church in CŰte-St.-Luc. Usually it was the choir, but this day in the fall of 1962, a group of sea cadets had gone to represent the school. I think that the whole corps did not go, otherwise we would have taken a bus. Since we were driving in my fatherís car, it seems that only a relatively small contingent went that day (ok, so Iím fuzzy on a few of the details, give me break, I plead concussion). As best I can recall it was sometime in the afternoon, and 9 of us, my parents and I and 6 other cadets, were packed like sardines into my dadís station wagon (see picture).
Note half-painted (by me) girl's tube.
At the time this photo was taken (Summer of '62) the car was two or three years old. It was a Pontiac nine-seat station wagon with all the bells and whistles; power everything. Ordinarily, an impoverished Feller teacher could not aspire to anything this elegant, but the day dad went car shopping, the salesman had a real deal for him (yeah, right). The story was that there was an elderly gent who bought himself a new car with all the options every year and traded it in as soon as next year's models came out; this year the salesman was saving it for my dad. Well, I worked in a car dealership one summer, so forgive me for being a bit cynical, but it does make a good story even if it was a line of bull. My Scottish father was ecstatic to think he was getting a great deal; it was a nice car and he was justifiably proud of it.
A few years earlier, dad had discovered a back way between Grande Ligne
and Montreal that was a few miles shorter and avoided St. Jean.
The only drawback was that the roads were narrower and there was an
approximately one mile stretch of gravel road when you turned east onto what I
think was Rte 9B (the big line from which Fellerís hamlet derived its name).
I know that my father had a reputation as a fast driver amongst
the students. Iím not convinced
that he was all that much faster than average but Iím sure that he cultivated this rep.
There is no doubt that he thought himself a good driver; however, in
reality, because he came to it later in life, my assessment was that he was only fair.
Still, in this case, although we were cruising along at a decent clip, I
believe it was circumstances more than driving, that led to the accident.
As is not uncommon in accidents, we were almost home. We had
reached the gravel part of the road leading to Feller but about
a quarter mile before the pavement started, one of the front tires blew out.
This part of the road was lined on the east side by a very deep drainage
ditch and we immediately swerved towards this.
My heart leapt into my mouth (I now really understood this phrase) but dad
fought the car back away from the ditch and we fishtailed down the road away
from the ditch and then back towards it a few times.
If any of you have been in this sort of situation you know it really is
true that everything seems to take place in slow motion.
I remember the initial panic gradually being replaced by calm when dad
seemed to regain control. The
swerving was diminishing and I felt greatly relieved as it seemed that we were
going to succeed in getting on to the paved portion of the road.
All of a sudden, either something else gave out or dad just lost control and we
made a sharp turn, BANG, right into the ditch.
Iím sure that I was briefly unconscious, because the next thing I
remember was that the car was filled with moans and groans, and was nose down in the ditch, pointed
back the way from which we had been coming.
It was raining that day (more good luck) so the ditch had a relatively
deep, fast flowing stream in it. For
the next few minutes I remember things as isolated snapshots. I remember hearing my mom asking if dad was ok, he didnít
reply but he groggily tried to open his door and get out into the water, mom and I both
yelled at him. Mom turned around
and asked if we were ok in the back and I saw a lot of blood on her forehead.
I remember thinking, "oh no, I hope Iím not cut" (not my
finest hour) but from the look mom gave me I suspected that I was.
I put my hand to my own forehead and it came away covered in blood.
All I could think of was that this was going to leave a real scar (not
too vain, eh?). [A few days later I
went and looked at the wreck. The
knob that you pushed down to lock the door had the top plastic button knocked
off and there was a smear of blood on the window above it, where my head had
rested against the window.] I
remember people running to help us from the surrounding farm houses. A few of the faces were slightly familiar but we were far
enough up the road that I didnít really know anyone; they didnít attend
Roussy Memorial and did not come to school functions.
We must have seemed a strange lot, crawling out of the car and up out of
the ditch, at least those of us who could.
All of the guys were wearing their sea cadet uniforms so it must have
been an other worldly experience for the rescuers. The sound track of my memory is dominated by a very loud,
very foul- mouthed diatribe issuing from the mouth of one of my classmates, who I
think was in the back seat against the passenger door.
He was mostly unconscious and was going on at the top of his lungs about
how he was cursed and this was his 3rd concussion; this declaration included much blaspheming and
eff this and effing
that. We were taken to the same
farmhouse to get out of the rain while waiting for the ambulances, and in my case
to apply a towel to staunch the flow of blood.
I know itís silly but what I remember was being embarrassed by the
language. The lady looking after
him was not apparently overly offended but I remember sort of wishing he would
lose consciousness entirely and shut up (sorry Larry).
Fortunately, our angels of mercy were all unilingual francophone and the
cursing was in English, but from the sheepish grins I shared with the men, Iím
certain theyíd heard the words before. At
this point, I lost track of what happened with the others since they were taken
to different houses or stayed on the scene. I
believe that we stretched the ambulance capability of greater Ste. Blaise-Grande
Ligne way past the breaking point. My
mom and dad were most seriously hurt and I think they went in the first
ambulance; I may have been
in the next one, or certainly the one after that.
In any case, I didnít get to lie down but sat in the jump seat in back.
When we passed Feller there were some worried looking people standing out
front and a blur of pale faces in many of the windows.
Why werenít you guys studying? As
luck would have it, I was in the ambulance with my vocal friend and he cursed
pretty well the whole way to town.
Looking back, I guess we were lucky, given that this was in the days before seatbelts. Although we were pretty banged up, no one except my parents spent more than a day or so in the hospital. In fact, the 3 guys in the rear-facing 3rd seat were relatively unscathed. The front seat passengers took the brunt of the crash, especially mom and dad. Mom was in hospital for a few weeks (she shattered her kneecap and it had to be removed. She also had a moderately severe gash on her forehead). Dad hit the steering wheel hard and fractured 8 ribs, several in more than one place. I was told later that a sharp edge from one of the fractured ribs damaged his heart and that it was touch and go the first night. But he was a tough old guy, and even though he was in the hospital until around Christmas time he managed to pull through. On the other hand, I feel that he never really completely recovered. He had to take it easy and was in and out of hospital with cardiac problems for the rest of his 4+ years.
Despite the bump to the forehead that resulted in an ugly shredded wound and a moderate concussion, I was not kept in hospital over night. I was transported back to Feller later that evening (I think by Uncle Steve), with one or two others. I remember limping in through the main entrance with blood all over my uniform and my head encircled by a 4 inch gauze bandage just as someone was walking down the main staircase. His eyes got wide as saucers ďJee-zus ChristĒ he exclaims. Uncle Stevie, mindful of the visual impact we must have had, chose to ignore the blasphemous outburst. The wounded warriors trod upstairs to the second floor infirmary where we joined a couple of those who had less severe trauma and thus had arrived a bit earlier, as well as a couple of kids who had the sniffles. That night the infirmary was overflowing, and with both my parents in the hospital, it was comforting to be in the company of some of the other survivors.
Unfortunately, as I was to discover in a few minutes, the fates were not quite done with me. A week or so earlier, I had made my first successful foray on to the fields of romance. I had mustered enough courage to ask a girl to accompany me on one of the Sunday afternoon walks. Yeah, I know, Grade 10 was a bit late to be having my first girlfriend, but I was (and still am) painfully shy and I really lacked the self-confidence to approach any one before this. I know that at least some of my female classmates thought I was arrogant and conceited but this really was not true. I was simply one of the shyest boys in the class; so this had been a major step for me. As has been pointed out elsewhere, asking someone out was the Feller equivalent of being engaged, so I was not too surprised when a few minutes after we arrived, they let this girl cross the iron curtain to visit. Well, I must have really pissed off whoever was in charge that day. She was not there to comfort me as I anticipated, but was coming to tell me that her parents had decided to take her and her sister out of school. She was leaving that night and her parents were waiting so that she could say good bye to me. I did not see that coming. We had a brief minute for a tearful good bye, and under the somewhat less than tactful eyes of the school nurse and the rest of the guys in the infirmary we shared our first and last kiss.
For a lot of obvious reasons, I was pretty blue and moped in the infirmary for a few days. But life went on and eventually I was deemed sufficiently recovered to rejoin the daily grind. My first public appearance was down in the dining hall. I must admit I was rather thrilled with all the attention, propping my wobbly self up against the back of one of the chairs, wearing my huge bandage like a medal, I felt quite the conquering hero. A few days later, I was back in the infirmary because the wound on my forehead became badly infected, but for that brief moment, I was "the man". After another few days of antibiotics and bed rest, I was bored to tears and escaped the infirmary to partake in my only experience as a boarder. But even this was artificial since, due to my health and the special circumstances, I was able to weasel out of things I didnít feel like doing, such as Mr. Brosiís 6 AM exercise regimen (sorry Gordon, I really felt guilty as I snuggled back under the covers when you trudged off at the crack of dawn, but I was just TOO weak to join youÖ if anyone believes that, I have this really nifty bridge for sale, really, really cheap). Anyway, after a couple of weeks, my mother came home in a wheelchair and resided in the girl's infirmary pretty well until Christmas. Canít you imagine how I really hated having to visit her there. What with all the sick girls lying around in their PJs providing a captive audience with whom I could flirt. I guess itís not too surprising that within a few weeks one of the girls I got friendly with there was my new girlfriend (well, let's face it post-adolescent boys are pretty fickle).