My old collection of black-and-white photos of our Welsh Street gang is one of my most treasured possessions. One snap-shot however is so charged with pain and heartache that even now, one glance instantly hurls me to the front stoop of a hot sunny morning where the “Grow-Up Monster” dragged my nine year old body along against my wishes.
We lived in a tiny house of six on a dead-end street with lots of kids and fathers in blue collars who worked in factories. My mom’s sister, Laura lived behind us and my great aunt lived three houses up. There were no fences and all the neighbors looked out for one another. Summers rang out with children’s laughter as we played all kinds of games in yards, on porches, in the surrounding fields and, yes, even in the street, which had very little traffic except for the residents.
I spotted the tiny crumpled body just as the shouting and screaming began. We were running from Kathy’s yard across to our own when the milkman heard the screams, slammed on his breaks and leapt from his truck to find that his left rear tire had pinned-down the head of little Timmy though I didn’t know who the child was at first. The distraught driver got back into his milk truck as the grown-ups tried to decide whether it would be better to back up or pull forward. Either action would cause more damage to the small toddler, so the driver again jumped out and began lifting the side of the truck as tears and sweat streamed down his ashen face. His whole body trembled as he put more and more force behind each attempt to raise the giant vise. I thought the veins in his neck were about to burst. One man on night shift soon joined in on a venture most thought was hopeless.
Neighbors were rushing around, there were tears and screams and shouting, and as my Aunt Laura surged to the scene with towels and a sheet, my mom attempted to corral the kids into our backyard so we couldn’t see. For the most part, we did as Mom asked. We sobbed helplessly and my body seemed to implode with gut wrenching heaves in response to the unbelievable terror.
Timmy’s mother wailed in high pitched moans and ran frantically back into her house looking for a shotgun. Like a real miracle, the truck actually rose enough for Laura to slide the tiny child’s lifeless body out and wrap his head with towels so his mom wouldn’t see the worst. Miner’s Hospital was only two blocks away so Laura, holding Timmy, tried to calm his mother, as they were guided into the back seat of my Aunt Angela’s car. They sped to the emergency room while we all stood in their wake, crushed into a nauseous, deadening silence. I soon began racing toward that bloody car, following as they turned right onto First St. I stopped my pursuit in the alley behind The Hotel Gunter gasping for air and sobbing uncontrollably.
I couldn’t imagine Mrs. Donald’s emotional state as the seconds ticked and the terror escalated. I pictured her holding her blood soaked son, unable to see his head, praying perhaps for a miracle, longing to shoot herself were he to die. Timmy’s blood also remained behind. It pooled between the cobblestones right in front of our house along with pieces of a saltine cracker, the one my mom had given Timmy a few minutes before the accident. He had apparently dropped the cracker under the milk truck and had crawled under to get it just as the milkman was pulling away from the curb.
The driver broke his back and ended up at Miner’s Hospital too, where he suffered a nervous breakdown. Several years later, he died of a broken heart, but that poor gentleman who had suffered in so much agony, became a hero to me, along with Timmy’s mom who chose to keep on living, even after the loss of her sweet adorable little boy.
I have a photo of Timmy. He’s standing by our front stoop wearing a cowboy hat. I don’t need a picture of the courageous man in uniform nor of all the scarlet fluid and tissue that created a permanent stain long after it had been washed away along with the saltine cracker. Mom was just being kind as she always was. She was our neighborhood’s greatest blessing; my greatest gift. I prayed really hard after that, that she wouldn’t blame herself. I was much too afraid to ask her, too fearful of making her cry all over again. I couldn’t bear her tears.
The Donald family moved on soon after the accident. I heard that several years later they had had another child in another town though I never saw them again. I believed that everyone responded exactly as they were meant to respond to the tragedy that day. I was proud of my mom and my aunts and the other adults on the street for their quick response. I didn’t understand how they could possibly have the courage to stay so calm. I knew I would never have been able to do that. I was allowed to fall apart. I never told the adults how much we had all needed them that day, how much I had needed them.
I’m sure my playmates were marked for life just as I have been, though we spoke very little about it afterwards. I imagine all of us being tormented with frightening nightmares and fears of death. It’s astonishing to me that some of our deepest wounds, our most grievous tragedies don’t syphon off our own blood supply or leave physical scars yet they are permanently recorded along with the imagined sounds of crushed bone against cobblestones and the horrific grunts of a human lifting a two ton truck. What excruciating pain!
I scooted over on our small front stoop after that, making room for a mother and her lost son, a husband who received the dreaded phone call, an unborn child who had a brother he or she would never know but would always know, and especially for the man who was broken in two by an unearthly strength to save what couldn’t be saved.