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East Texas Smorgasbord Sign

ABSTRACT: Twenty photos accompany this poignant, somewhat-graphic, eye-witness account of the unexpected, violent deaths of Nita Jo Dixon Richardson and her mother, Mollie Lynn (Linn) Dixon.

barbed wire line divider

On the anniversary of their death, I remember

Nita Jo Dixon Richardson

Mollie Lynn (Linn) Dixon

Nita-Last Photo This last photo of Nita Jo was taken a few hours before her death on June 1, 1963. Mollie, 1962 Mollie Lynn Dixon, Nita Jo's mother, also died in the wreck that claimed the life of her youngest child. Photo was taken at Nita Jo's wedding nine months before they died.

Their Demise

Last Hours

Like a sad omen, the last t.v. show Nita ever watched, seen only a few hours before she died, was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe, who at that time had been dead less than a year.

Nita,'57 Nita Jo as a teenager, about five years before her death.

Fifteen-years and one-week old, I was, as I sat beside Nita Jo at the instant she died.

Ironically, up until the second that the Volkswagen struck that angry-looking red bull, the night had been a joyous one full of fun, food, and fellowship (but NO liquor). The six of us in the V.W. 'Beetle' had sung every rock-n-roll song that we could think of, and the seventy-mile trek from Kilgore to Lufkin was almost completed. As we'd approached the Angelina River bridge, we'd "quietened down and settled in" for the last ten miles back to Grampa's farm.

Strangely, I'd had something of a premonition almost an hour before the actual collision. When a car passing another on the two-lane stretch of highway near Henderson had come too close to us for my comfort, I remember consciously considering my own death and concluding that I wasn't yet ready to meet God.

Sue,1963 Me, looking 'dorky' on Mollie's and Nita Jo's last night of life on this earth

But close to midnight when we'd reached the mark in Nacogdoches County where the road had widened into four lanes, I'd relaxed again and "hunkered down" comfortably.

I must have fallen asleep and slumped even further down into the seat in which Nita might have been sitting, if I had not come along for the ride back to Lufkin that night after Patsy's and Bubba's wedding in Kilgore.

Patsy & Bubba Patsy and Bubba had to interrupt their honeymoon on South Padre Island to attend the double funeral.

I Saw It Coming

In a lightning-swift flash, I glimpsed the bull, illuminated by the car's headlights, as I was rousing up after hearing Tony mutter, "Oh, my God!"

[Tony Richardson, Nita Jo's husband (who died last year of cancer), would not utter another word for the next twenty-two days, until after he came out of the coma resulting from the wreck.]

I recall that the bull was on my side--the passenger's side-- when he'd appeared out of the darkness to dart across the highway in front of Tony's car. But the animal was sprinting so fast that he'd impacted the car on the driver's side, and therby my life was spared, by the grace of God .

The bull survived.

Nita &Tony Nita, with husband Tony, at her own wedding, nine months before she died.

Blood and Gore

His impact was deadly. It inflicted brain damage on Tony, snuffed out Nita's young life, and propelled Mollie out the car's sliding sun-roof top to the asphalt where she was slammed by the car behind us that had just dodged Tony's car. Evelyn, Nita's older sister, had her eye knocked out of socket by the bull's hoof [but only temporarily, thank God! Surgeon Dr. Hyman managed to nudge and stitch it back into position and salvage her eyesight!]. Her fiance Robert's facial bones were crushed so completely that he almost choked to death on his own blood.

Evelyn after wreck  Besides the injury to her eye, Evelyn ('Effie') had a broken arm, ankle, and finger
I must have been knocked out by the impact, because the next thing I remember was coming to in the car and being greeted by an eerie silence. I received no answer when I asked, "Are y'all all right?"

In the dimness of the car, I could see only Nita, slumped backward, inclined against Tony, her husband of nine months, who'd been driving the Volkswagen.

We filled up two ambulances that night. The funeral director came out himself, and I remember noticing that his white shirt was marred by bloodstains.

Ev's Fiance Robert, Evelyn's finance, who later became her husband. Photo taken in 1980.
Mr. Gipson's presence should have alerted me to the possibility that members of my family might be dead, but I was in shocked denial. The full import of the tragedy didn't strike me until an ambulance driver wearing the name badge of Jerry Duty gently broke it to me that "the other man" involved in the wreck --[Mollie's body was unrecognizable at that point] --would "be taken directly to the morgue." Several more hours passed before a nurse finally informed me that Nita Jo, --who was still lying prone and motionless on a stretcher in a hallway outside the twin emergency rooms of the old Woodland Heights Hospital,-- had arrived from the scene of carnage "D.O.A"(Dead On Arrival).

I was the only member of the wedding party left standing. Miraculously, with the girl beside me lifeless and the woman who had been in the car seat directly behind me very much deceased, the only indignities that had been done to my person were a small lump on the head, broken glasses, and a minuscule cut just under my right cheekbone.

And because I was the only person of our group still capable of speech, it fell to me to supply emergency numbers to notify next of kin and to greet the worried persons who came rushing into the hospital to find out what had happened.

I remember that we first called Harvey Sloan, whose farm bordered Grampa's, asking him to go down the road and tell Grampa what had happened. Consequently, Harvey and Mrs. Sloan were the first to arrive at the hospital, followed by Robert's sister and nieces, the Maddens. Then came Aunt Margarett, who passed out when I told her, too bluntly, that her sister and favorite niece were dead.

Nita,1957 Nita, circa 1957
The fact that Nita was killed instantly of a broken neck turned out to be a blessing, because the accident had done so much violence to her beautiful face. Her head had been slung against one side of the windshield at about the same moment that the eighteeen-hundred-pound bull had crashed through the other. The windshield glass had ground her lovely face to the consistency of hamburger to such an extent that throughout the ambulance ride when I'd keep trying without success to find her facial features, I'd seen no eyes, no mouth, nor nose, only mangled flesh. Nita-Last Photo Nita, about six hours before the car wreck that took her life
In the ambulance I'd also kept fretting about the reason why Nita's hair was wet. Ultimately, I concluded that it was soaked in her own sweet blood.

Two days later while inspecting the vehicle, we peeled Nita's teeth off the rear-view mirror in what was left of the Volkswagen, as flies, attracted by all the sticky dried blood in the car, buzzed around in the Texas heat.

Horribly disfigured, Nita Jo would have been, had she survived.

Gramma Left Us, Too

Still, Nita fared better than her mother. Mollie, Nita Jo's mother, who had been sitting behind me, also died, after being thrown out of the car's sliding sun-roof top. Her body had landed smack in the highway and was then plowed into by another car swerving to avoid ours. Mollie's slender body was mutilated as it was dragged the 200 yards from the point of impact down to the Angelina River bridge.

Mollie,1947 Mollie, in June of 1947, eight months before the birth of her last child, a girl who was stillborn

The Last Time I Saw Them

I saw Mollie and Nita Jo one last time, downstairs in the old Gipson Funeral Home in downtown Lufkin, on the night on which the family decided to close their coffins.

Despite the violence that had been done to their bodies, they looked pretty good. With loving tenderness, the mortician, Mr. Elwyn Gipson, had picked the glass out of Nita Jo's lifeless face. Then he'd smoothed back into place her tattered tissue and 'waxed' Nita back to a semblance of her former beauty.

Mollie Up-Close Mollie, the summer before the wreck.
The undertaker had done an excellent job, but since the result "didn't look like our Nita Jo," the family members agreed that the matching pink and silver caskets should remain closed during their joint funeral.

I heard later that Mr. Gipson's feelings were hurt because he had worked for many hours piecing Mollie and Nita Jo together again.

Of course, Mollie couldn't be put totally back together again, because her arm had been wrenched from her body and her head had been shattered into seven pieces. Since the attendants never did find all her body parts, Elwyn Gipson had had to revert to placing a pristine cloth in the exact spot where her forehead should have been.

Mollie,1961 Mollie, 1962

Conclusions: What I learned from the experience

I learned that life is fleeting

Their sudden, ghastly deaths on a night that had just a few hours earlier been brimming with so much joy drove home to me the point that "life is but a vapor." Our lives are mere blasts of steam that puff and chug away until, at the appointed time for each one of us, the spirit of life takes its leave and the body that once housed it grows cold and still.

I found out that the 'Death Angel' strikes when you least expect him

The events of that bittersweet night made me realize that we shouldn't preoccupy ourselves too much in making long-range plans, figuratively building "new barns" to store our excess harvests in, thinking and scheming, "Tomorrow I shall do such and such." We should always precede such plans for the future with, "If the Lord wills, I shall do this and that and so forth,' because the stark truth is that "tomorrow we may die."

I realized that "nary a one" escapes

"It is appointed for man once to die," the Lord said, continuing with, "but after that the judgment."

Patsy, as bride Patsy, the bride on that memorable night of June 1, 1963.

Philosophizing: How do I get to see them again?

I'm hoping for a glad reunion with them, but how?

Why I need to believe

Nita Jo and Mollie were such an integral part of my childhood that losing them left this "humongous" hole in my heart. Besides being assalted by "survivor's guilt," I really missed their company. With such an aching for them permeating my being, it's only natural that I should long to meet them again in "the afterlife."

So if believing in everlasting life is a "pipe dream," (or "feeding on the roses of delusion")  then I apologize. Ya' should understand that, after witnessing so much horror as a teenager, I have to believe that there's sense to the universe. If I didn't have that hope of being given a new body that will never die, I'd probably just shoot myself.

Closeup of Pat Patsy, up close
Question: If nobody's good enough, how does a 'trollop' like me get in?

Since the Lord also declared, "There is none righteous, no not one," I've putttered away many hours, pondering about how I might make it into heaven. It's obvious to me that I'll never be good enough to make it to that safe place based on my own "good" behavior. As if the problem that I still have with cussin' weren't enough, there is that troubling verse that tells us that if we know that we ought to be doing something good, but don't do it, then we're "sinning."

Since we all "smell," we can't "work" our way in

When it comes to trying to live a good enough life to get to go to heaven, ya' can't win for losing. Even Mollie and Nita, near-saints that they were, had each sinned a little during the course of her life. Therefore, I have concluded that you cannot work your way there by "being a good boy or girl," because all your goodness stinks when you put it up beside the goodness of God.

Everybody sins because sin lives in our bodies

What did the apostle Paul say in Romans? Paraphrased, he lamented, "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what I do want to do. So why do I do these bad things? I do them because I am in this nasty body of flesh, and in my flesh there ain't nothin' good. Therefore, it's no longer me doing the bad stuff, but the sin that lives in my old nasty body that's doing all this ugly stuff."

Bubba,Patsy, & girls, 1974 By 1974, Patsy and Bubba had three daughters
"Ah, you're saying we have a license to sin? " you ask? (That's what people always say!)   Nah. We cannot keep on living like pigs because Paul continued, "So, what are we gonna' do? Shall we just keep on sinning and be done with it? Nope, 'cuz I tell you that the people who keep on doing bad things ain't gonna' inherit the kingdom of God."

So if being good "won't cut it," how will  I get to see Mollie, Nita Jo, and all the other wonderful people who've passed on before me again?

Here's what I believe will get us there:

Patsy & Girls This photo of Patsy and her three girls was taken in 1976, shortly after Bubba and she divorced
First, some background: a perfect sacrifice was needed

Since the scriptures say that "all have sinned" and "come up short," a sacrifice was necessary to "atone" for our sins, for all the sins of men, to wipe them out. The scriptures declare that the only human being who succeeded in living a sinless life was the Lord Jesus.

Only He would do

By behaving himself perfectly, Jesus became the only sin-free person fit to die FOR us. Knowing this fact, the Lord willingly chose to die as a blood sacrifice for our sins. By dying as the "Ultimate Sacrifice," He became "the Lamb of God." By sacrificing Himself, He was the Perfect Atonement for the sins of each and every person, Gentile and Jew alike, who chooses believe in Him and "take up his or her cross" and follow Him.

Faith equals righteousness. Almost. Well, sorta...

Have you read the passage that talks about Abraham's faith being "accounted unto him for righteousness?" If you believe the book of Romans, you have to assume that because Mollie and Nita Jo believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, their faith was counted as righteousness, even though they weren't quite perfect in all their behavior. Even though Gramma got mad sometimes and Nita even slapped me once, they still made it into the holy place that Jesus is occupying at the moment, being "absent from the body and present with the Lord."

Three Girls, Grown Patsy and Bubba's three girls, all grown up (Nikki, Angie, Kris)
Death don't mean 'squat' since Jesus was willingly sacrificed

Because Jesus allowed Himself to be sacrificed for the sins of all people in the world, death has lost its "sting." Now "death is swallowed up in victory."

If we believe, that is

If we believe and tell others that Jesus was fathered by the Sprit of God --[sorta' like 'in vitro' fertilization, but done in "the great laboratory of God"],-- was born of a virgin girl, lived a pure life without sinning, and willingly died as a sacrifice for us, then, according to the Bible, we shall be saved from eternal separation from God.

Where do 'WORKS' come in?

Now as for the self-righteous folks who pride themselves on their "living holy," I can't see it. Salvation is an undeserved free gift that nobody can earn. Our good works don't save us.

We'll show our faith through our good works

However, if we truly believe and have been "born again" by the Spirit of God, then we'll be 'convicted' by the Spirit of God that lives within us. If we continue to act like crap, then we'll begin to feel guilty about our bad behavior and try to do better. Gradually, through a long process of "two steps forward and one step back," we'll get better and better at living what we believe. We'll be less and less hypocritical. We'll "behave ourselves" better.

.Country Girls:Me, Nita & Bonnie 1960. Country girls, country roads, days that will never come again. Here, I am, barefoot in the hot sand, with Nita in the middle, and neighbor Bonnie Loving on the right.
We gotta' hang in there

If we don't throw in the towel and don't decide that "the Bible and all that Christ stuff is a bunch of hooey," if we don't allow a "wicked heart of unbelief" to enter into us, if we endure until our end, then our faith, as demonstrated by our good works done for the Lord, will be counted for righteousness. Our faith will be chalked up as righteousness, but we gotta' continue to believe.

I cling to the hope that if my faith endures until my end, I shall see Gramma and Nita Jo again.

Me Me, a lifetime later. Photo was taken by Ramona on Jan. 9, 1998
Copyright 1998
Created June 1, 1998,
by S. P. Armstrong
Last Update: November 22, 2004