Kid Memories

The Night The Van Fell On Dad

For some reason I feel like it should have been winter. Maybe that feeling is because my 4 year old’s memory connects the bedspread with cold, but Dad and Uncle Larry were outside in the driveway of the house next to Leverich Park working on Dad’s van, so it must have been summer. Who would be outside working on a car in any other season but summer in the Pacific Northwest?

Uncle Larry wasn’t really my uncle. He was our next door neighbor. Larry was a machinist and had the the trade mark missing parts to prove it. He smelled like engine oil and cigarettes and I was fascinated with him. I loved watching him eat his dinner with the hand that had lost all it’s fingers while his perfectly intact left hand lay idle on the table. I’d secretly practice wedging my fork between my thumb and palm to see if I could muster even half the dexterity Larry had and manage to get any food in my mouth. I can’t think of any other guy my dad would have picked for the van repair project.

I don’t recall how my Mom and I came to be standing on the porch. Maybe we heard a crash as the jacks meant to keep things safe and elevated gave way, bringing the van down onto my Dad’s chest. Maybe we heard Larry screaming to call an ambulance after he had single-handedly lifted the van off Dad and pulled him from under it. Either way, we were there as Larry ran toward the house yelling “Give me something to cover him with until the ambulance gets here!”

My mom returned promptly with the bedspread that usually covered the bed she and Dad shared. It was a poly blend covered in big pink and red flowers. I was eye level to that blanket as Mom numbly clutched it in her left hand. When Larry grabbed it from her I wondered aloud “Won’t it get ruined?” My mom snapped “It doesn’t matter! Your father could die” and then she followed Larry out to the driveway. I didn’t cry at that news, the way she delivered it, or even about being alone on the porch. I stayed fixated on those flowers, watching them bounce up and down as Larry ran. Watching them become full again as the bedspread was stretched out over Dad. Even as another neighbor arrived on the porch and picked me up, I kept turning my head so as not to lose site of the them. The last thing I remember is watching those flowers disappear into the ambulance before it raced off toward the hospital.

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