|It was 1956. Life seemed pretty carefree. Dad brought home our very first television set, playing cowboys and Indians was a favorite for little boys and baby dolls continued to be a favorite among little girls. Monopoly was a favorite board game for everyone. Yes, from the eyes of a child, life couldn’t be easier or more complete.
Nine year old Jerry lay on the floor in front of the Monopoly game. Jessie, my oldest brother who was twelve and thought he knew everything, taunted me “hurry up Annie! Roll the dice today, would ya?” Hey! I thought. I was six years old and got distracted easily – what could I say. I rolled my eyes at Jessie and picked up the dice. I cupped my hands together and shook the dice wildly. I smiled as the seconds seemed like minutes – anything to annoy Jessie. Jerry just patiently lay on the floor, laughing at both of us.
Dad walked in from the kitchen. “Ok, guys, get your coats on. We are going to Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey’s house.” I threw the dice on the board and jumped up yelling “I get the window on the way over!” I loved going to the Ramsey’s house and playing with their daughter Betty. The Ramsey’s also had a son that was eleven, right in between Jerry and Jessie’s ages. It was also Friday night so I knew dad would not be in any hurry to come home. He and Mr. Ramsey could talk for hours at a time non-stop. This was going to be a fun night for everyone!
Jessie decided to bring the Monopoly game making it clear to me it was for “the guys to play.” He placed the box in the front seat next to dad and hopped in the back with Jerry and me. Jerry sat in the middle without a care, knowing he would have my window seat on the way home. That is the way it always worked: first call got the window seat so Jerry and I always took turns. Jessie always got a window seat since he was subject to getting car sick. Jerry sat close to the edge of the seat, resting his chin on the front seat.
The 30 minute ride to our friend’s house in our 1947 Ford was uneventful. I listened as dad sang “Hound Dog” along with Elvis on the radio. I peeked out the window, watching the rain coming down and the houses whirl by. The warm air from the car heater made its way to the back and suddenly I felt very sleepy. I slipped my cold hands into my warm coat pockets and slid down into the seat and closed my eyes.
“Annie! Annie! Wake up!” I could hear Jessie calling me. His scared, shaky voice sounded so faint and distant. Why did he sound scared? “She’s going to be fine, son, just let her lay on the seat and rest.” Wait! That wasn’t my dad’s or Jerry’s voice. I lingered in and out of my dream state somewhat confused – wanting to open my eyes but somehow I couldn’t. I don’t know how much time passed. As I became more aware of my surroundings I began hearing lots of noise – mostly sirens. I could now feel my body moving and noticed my head hurt and my left arm ached.
As I slowly opened my eyes I could see Jessie’s face hovering over me. A tear rolled down his cheek as he looked down at me and hysterically laughed out loud. I quickly sat up and looked around. Why was I in the back seat of a police car with Jessie? So many cars and lights everywhere! I noticed another police car close by and dad was in the back seat talking to someone. He looked at me and smiled and waved like nothing was wrong. But Jerry……. Where was Jerry?
The accident - what happened:
That fateful night was rainy and slick – but that wasn’t the main problem that rocked our world. Dad was driving our car slowly over a set of railroad tracks and one of the tires hit a pothole, stalling the car. A train was headed right toward the right front of our car. Jessie (as he later told me) heard the blaring noise of the train whistle and saw the white light getting closer and closer as he helplessly yelled. Jerry (as I was told), with eyes opened wide, said nothing and seemed to be in a trance. I was slumped down in the seat asleep; unaware of what lie before me.
Dad attempted to start the car again and again but in vain. The train was too close to get everyone out fast enough before impact. What was going to happen would happen and there was nothing that could stop it.
The train hit the right front of the car with a huge, forceful impact. Jessie and I hit the back of the front seat and were tossed around like rag dolls. Dad’s chest hit the steering wheel which was the only thing that kept him in the car. Jerry was not so lucky. His slim, small body was thrown over the front seat and through the front windshield. He landed in a pool of blood several feet from the car. Upon arrival, the medical examiner found no pulse, pronounced Jerry dead, and placed a cover over him. Moments later another medical examiner wanted to take a second look and found a slight pulse. Jerry was gently and quickly placed into an ambulance and transported to the hospital as he fought for his young life.
Dad, Jessie and I were released from the hospital with only minor injuries.
Jerry had a fractured skull and had lost a lot of blood. A metal plate was eventually placed under his skin on the left side of his forehead to make up for some of his crushed skull. Jerry remained in a comma for almost 6 weeks. Once he came out of the comma he had to learn how to do everything all over again – just like a young child. He had to learn how to speak, eat with utensils, walk and even go to the toilet all over again.
A year later, Jerry was home and allowed to go back to school. He was unable to keep up in class and often got frustrated and angry with himself and others. He yearned to be (and remembered) how he once was. At the age of 12, he was then taken out of public school and my parents made the decision to put him in a facility for people with mental disabilities. He began taking classes and learned to read and write again. His attitude and health seemed to be improving so my parents began bringing him home on weekends. Jessie and I were thrilled and enjoyed spending the time with our brother again.
Jerry soon began suffering from epilepsy and grand mal seizures which took its toll on his body. The seizures were so frequent that he had to wear a football helmet any time he walked for any distance, just to protect him from the fall in case he had a seizure. Due to his new medical problems, weekend visits at home were becoming less frequent.
In 1989, Jerry was eating and got something lodged in his throat. He died at the age of 42, having spent 30 years of his life in a mental facility. His jar of ashes also holds the metal plate placed in his head when he was only 9.
Sometimes life as we know it is robbed from us at an early age – Jerry knew it better than any of us. We can drive ourselves crazy by asking “why?” And I can’t deny that fateful night still haunts me and “what if’s” still fill my dreams. But I know that won’t change anything. It’s best that I remember the joy I felt just by knowing him: his smile, his laughter, the hours we spent playing and talking together. Yes, his name was Jerry. He was my brother – a very special person that I loved. And I smile every time I think of him and how much he touched my heart.