Archive for June 2011
“Why doesn’t he get out of the way?” I asked from the middle of the front seat.
Dad didn’t respond. He locked up the brakes and laid on the horn. Our late 1960’s American Rambler slid down the hill on screeching tires.
Mother stopped talking mid-sentence in the back seat. She had just changed places with my sister and me a few miles back to talk with grandmother.
I was in the middle of the front seat. My sister was to my right. Seatbelts? I can’t remember. Shoulder belts became law in 1968. I can tell you I wasn’t wearing one.
Our California car probably crested the hill before the intersection doing 65 mph. Best guess from the photos looks like we hit the other car going 35 or 40. The impact pushed him into the ditch twenty to thirty feet past the crossing. Our car ended up on top of the stop sign.
I remember dad throwing his right arm out in an effort to protect me. I don’t remember the impact. Gingerly, I pulled my broken left arm out of the circular air conditioning vent. My sister was already out the right door. She held her left wrist. I followed quick as I could.
Dad came over to see if we were alright. The look in his and my sister’s face told me I wasn’t. I glanced down to see what they were looking at. The blood dripped profusely from the cut over my eye. It was hard to see.
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” I tried to assure them. I hopped about in an effort to deny the pain. The hopping didn’t help. The abnormal angle of my left arm frightened me.
“Son, didn’t you see that stop sign?” my dad asked the driver of the other car. Dad’s calmness amazed me. He then knelt next to the car in an effort to comfort my mother.
A low moan came from the back seat. Mother didn’t get out. She couldn’t. X-rays later revealed a broken pelvis and ruptured spleen. She had been sitting sideways when we hit.
Two ambulances took us to the hospital. Grandmother went with mother in the first. My sister and I went in the second. In spite of broken ribs, dad stayed behind to talk to the trooper.
I wasn’t prepared for surgery. I broke my finger in a skateboarding accident years earlier. The doctor reset the bone then and put a splint on it. My arm was in much worse shape.
“You sure swore a blue streak when you came out of the anesthesia,” the orderly said as he wheeled me to my room. Embarrassed, I made a mental note to clean up my language.
“Are you sure?” the nurse asked again on the third day. She asked the same thing every day. I had no idea what a bowel movement was. Why did she keep asking me that? My sister finally explained what she meant. I was glad we didn’t stay more than a week in the hospital.
The trip home to California was my first airline flight. I don’t remember if mother came with us then or travelled later. I know she had a difficult recovery. She lay on the couch at home for several weeks. As far as I know she started teaching school on time again in September.
It’s funny how everyone’s injuries were on the left side. Dad’s broken left ribs; my sister’s broken left wrist and my broken left arm. To this day I have the scars from the pins in my elbow. Occasionally my arm locks up, a reminder of that painful day.
In a quiet reflective moment with my dad years later, I asked him about the accident. He expressed the concern he felt for us at the time and then shared something sacred.
“You know your mother was hurt pretty bad,” he said.
“We were all messed up. She had surgery like me, didn’t she?”
“She did. I sat by her side all that night and every night for a week.” He struggled to go on. I could tell it was difficult for him to talk about this.
“I didn’t think she was going to make it. I can tell you I never prayed so hard in my life.” He was crying. Dad never cried. “It was a miracle we weren’t hurt worse.”
“I know. I still can’t remember the impact. It’s like I blanked out,” I said.
“We were protected by an angel, especially you.” Dad never talked about angels. I didn’t even know he believed in them. “It was a miracle.”
“What do you mean?”
“That night your mother lay close to death, I pled with the Lord to preserve her life. I didn’t think I could go on without her.” This was my invincible, invulnerable dad.
“I must have dozed off. When I woke, someone was sitting on the other side of the bed, looking at your mother.” Dad was serious in a way I had never seen before.
“Was it a doctor?”
“No. He had on a white robe that sort of glowed. His face shone. He looked up, smiled at me and then disappeared. I knew everything was going to be alright.”
“Who do you think it was?”
He looked at me long and hard before responding.
“I think it was the same person that kept you from going through the windshield of that car. Maybe it was your brother who died just after he was born.”
“Everyone get down.”
A rock crashed through the front window of the bus. We didn’t have to be told twice. Some passengers ducked in their seats. We got on the floor. My heart raced.
The bus sped up. I looked at my companion. It was hard to see him in the dark. He seemed terrified. We held on to the seat legs for support.
“Dios mío,” said one of the women. Children cried. Rocks crashed through the side windows. Glass sprayed all around us. The bus driver laid on the horn.
A man shouted something in Spanish out the window. A rock hit him in the side of the face. Blood spattered the seat next to us. Several women screamed.
Chickens flew in the aisle. More rocks smashed windows in quick succession. The bus hopped over obstacles in the road. Men, women and children bounced up and down.
A shot rang out, then another. They came from behind us. One last rock hit the back window. The bus veered to the right in a sudden turn. The crashing rocks ceased.
“Are you alright?” I asked my companion.
Elder Morales didn’t reply. A woman next to him sobbed. He spoke to her in Spanish. He tried to comfort her. The bus slowed to a more reasonable speed.
After a moment I saw the lights of the main street ahead. The bus driver stopped at the corner. He got out and swore. “Damn those kids. Look what they did to my bus.”
We all piled out after him as fast as we could. Women gathered their children who still cried. Men stood around the bus driver. They asked him to keep going.
“They would have burned my bus if I stopped,” the driver said. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going home.” He got back in his bus, closed the door and sped down the road.
I helped Elder Morales clean the glass out of his hair. His ear was bleeding. I gave him my handkerchief. We began the long walk back to our house outside the barrio.
We worked in Reparto Schick all day, every day. The dangers of that poor neighborhood just outside of Managua prevented us from staying there at night. We had come from a day full of meetings and visiting the people in their homes. It was Sunday, February 5, 1978.
We worked with a small church group called a branch. The leader of the branch got up in church that day and renounced his position. Then his assistant renounced. He said he didn’t want the job either. We spent the afternoon trying to convince them to stay.
“What are we going to do, Elder Morales?” We walked at a fast pace away from the shouting and fires that still burned in the barrio. “President Jimenez can’t quit like that.”
“Elder Malone, you’ve got to understand these people. There are so few that are willing to lead a church. This is the third time he’s been Branch President.”
“I know, but he can’t quit. He has to be released.” Elder Morales looked at me with a kind of sadness. He seemed so much older and wiser than his nineteen years. He was from San Jose. One eye was lop-sided. I could never tell exactly where he was looking.
“We’ll talk to President Garcia. Let him handle it.” I liked that. Give the problem to the District President where it belonged. I was going to miss Elder Morales.
This was our last full day together as companions. I was being transferred the next day to work in Bello Horizonte as a zone leader. All the missionaries in my incoming group of fourteen were about to become zone leaders. It happened with the passage of time.
The only cars on the road that night were taxis and a few busses. Very few people had cars. Sometimes a church member who drove a taxi would pick us up. Not that night.
The shouting in the distance grew louder. Army trucks rolled past us going toward the barrio. A helicopter flew in the distance. Its powerful light searched the ground below.
“Elder, I think we had better get off this road. Let’s cut through the field.” We were about five minutes from our house. The commotion was growing louder. Elder Morales agreed.
The stench of a dead dog filled our nostrils. The light from the helicopter revealed it was infested with maggots. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Elder.”
Elder Morales began to cough, then sneeze and gag. He grabbed at his face. Tears flowed from his eyes. Surely the scent of a dead dog couldn’t do this. Then it hit me.
Tear gas has a powerful effect even after several minutes. The helicopter light shone fully in our faces. A voice in Spanish over a loudspeaker demanded to know why we were there.
Neither one of us could talk. The wind from their rotor blades whipped around us. Tears blinded my eyes. My tie whipped up in my face. I held my hands up high. So did Elder Morales.
“Don’t shoot,” Elder Morales managed to shout. “We’re missionaries.” It must have been the white shirts that saved our lives. And Sandinistas don’t wear ties.
“CIA go home.” I had to laugh. The voice over the loudspeaker spoke English. It was intended for me. I waved in reply. Both arms. I waved them off. Get out of here.
We arrived home a few moments later. The doña had the usual rice and beans waiting for us. That night she added a little chicken and some plátanos in my honor.
“You’re late. Did anything interesting happen today?”
I looked at my companion.
“We had a great church meeting,” he said. “Please pass the rice.”