Saturday, June 4th 1955 summer vacation from school studies was officially here. I had completed all requirements to be promoted to the fourth grade at Ellicott Elementary School in Chickasaw, Alabama just the day before. The anticipation of all of the day long activities I was going to enjoy was all that was on my mind.
I had few worries and knew nothing about a series of nuclear explosions the United States had detonated in the Nevada desert during the previous three months. It would be fifty-five years before I would meet Roy Dobbs, a young U. S. Air Force enlisted man who witnessed all fourteen explosions at close range as part of Operation Teapot.
As a school, we participated in local air raid drills and every once in a while we would evacuate the buildings, load in cars driven by our parents, fall in line as directed, follow the police escorted entourage, and travel way out in the country hoping to minimize casualties from a possible enemy attack. WWII was still fresh on everyone’s mind and the way it ended put fear in the hearts of many Americans.
This day began as most others, with my brother, Donnie, and I locked in a competitive battle to see who was better at something and it didn’t matter what.
Six months earlier Santa Claus had brought me a brand new 24” Western Flyer bicycle and Donnie the 26” version of the same bike.
The smaller diameter tires on my bicycle gave me a distinct acceleration advantage over my three-year-older brother whose bigger tires required much more power to get up to speed. I used that advantage to take an early lead down Dallas Street. Just fifty yards before the end of street I maintained a comfortable lead and victory would soon be mine. I caught a glimpse of Donnie out of the corner of my eye. He was pedaling as fast as he could in a desperate attempt but with little chance of catching me when my pedals went limp. No resistance to my frantic pedaling, no increase in speed, but worse than that, no brakes.
In an attempt avoid speeding onto heavily travelled Chilton Street (not) I swung the handle bars to the right. Aw man, that stop sign is just too close. I turned the handle bars even more to the right and most of the bicycle cleared the post except. . .
My left pedal hooked the sign post and the post held fast. In fact that concrete post would have stopped a 55 Chevy in its tracks and sent the driver hurtling through the windshield.
Hooking the post as I did would have been okay if my bare foot had not been on the pedal. In an instant the cutting pain shot through me as the bicycle whipped around and threw me to the ground
I just sat there and stared at my foot. The skin was folded way back. Not much blood but I saw things that I should not be seeing. I saw something move as I wiggled my toes. Later I learned they were ligaments.
Doggone terrible way to lose a race. Donnie did come back, lay his bicycle down, and help me walk home.
A whirlwind of new experiences began for me right then.
When my daddy saw what had happened he wrapped a white towel around my foot, picked me up, and placed me in the middle of the front seat of the family’s 54 Ford. Our next door neighbor got in on the right side and held me during our trip to the Mobile Infirmary. I had been to that hospital two years earlier when my sister was born but I was not allowed inside then. On that day we children had to stay outside so we ran and played on the grass in front of the hospital waiting for our daddy to come back.
This day I remember lying on a hospital bed and the technician telling me that he was giving me something to help me sleep. He said, “Count backwards starting at a hundred.”
100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95, 94, 93 . . . is all that I remember.
The next thing I knew was waking up Sunday morning in a room with a stranger in the bed next to me. I believe his name was James. He was much older than me. I learned that he had dove into shallow water, cracked some bones in his neck, and suffered some paralysis in his body.
After the doctor made his round daddy paid the hospital $29.50 cash to cover the bill I had run up and took me home.
That was the beginning of a difficult summer for me. My foot was in a cast and I had to use crutches to help me walk. I remember going on summer outings with the family and sitting on the creek banks as all of the other children frolicked in the water.
When they removed the cast and started changing the bandages regularly the skin on my foot went through several disgusting color changes before it finally settled in to baby pink just in time for school to resume.
I was so thankful when my foot was almost fully restored and I could return to school. That year I picked up at least two new friends, Bobby Williamson and Eugene Elmore, who remain close today.
Wow, 59 years have passed and that scar is still with me, a stark reminder of a physical injury that healed long ago. I only wish emotional injuries could heal so completely.
For some reason, my mother kept a copy of the itemized hospital bill and I saw it the other day: Operating Room – $10.00, Drugs – $5.50, Hospital Room – $8.00, Drugs $2.00, and Drugs $4.00.
Wayne Brady 5/20/2014