We were walking from school to cheerleading practice.

Little League.

Blue Devils.

We wore the prettiest shade of blue corduroy circle skirts lined in white sheets and blue bloomers out of a different shade of blue fabric because we couldn’t match the blue of the corduroy. Our feet were clad in fold-down bobby socks and saddle oxfords, of course, and white pull-over v-neck sweaters over white short-sleeved blouses with Peter Pan collars topped off the outfit. In what I thought was a fairly brilliant idea, we attached this “F” onto the front of the sweater with snaps to make laundering the sweater easier (sewn-on letters that went through the washer and dry just never came out looking quite the same again). For our pom-poms, we bought blue and white crepe paper from Wayne’s Five and Ten, cut it into strips, folded it in half, and put a rubber band around the fold. When the blue faded on our hands and threatened our white sweaters and white short sleeved blouses with the Peter Pan collars, I brought some plastic covers from the dry cleaners, and we cut it up and covered the handle/fold to stop that.

We practiced at the log cabin (VFW) in town, and Mrs. Massey (her husband was a coach) and Mrs. Jones were our sponsors, which is to say, they taught us everything we know about enthusiastically cheering for the boys on the field. Those women may have been old in their twenties, but they could still leap and arch their backs and throw those hands in the air like any magazine advertisement you ever saw.

Mrs. Massey’s daughter, Robin, had hearing difficulties and wore a hearing aid device with the control hanging like a necklace on a cord around her neck. When her mother would get mad and scold Robin (which was kinda’ often cause Robin was, well, let’s go with “spirited”), the adorable little girl would stop dead in her tracks, look her mother square in the eye, pick up the pendant that controlled the hearing aids, and with great fanfare, turn her ears off. Robin always had the last word.

“Push ’em back, push ’em back, wwaaaaaayyyyy back,” we’d yell, choreographing our motions and clapping and hopeful bouncing.

My cousin, Elender, made up a cheer for us, and our sponsors were so delighted with her initiative and creativity, they let her teach it to us and we used it at least once during every game from then on.

Fe fi fo fum
I smell the blood
of a [insert team name of opponent] one.
Be he alive
or be he dead
We’re gonna’ win
just like we said.

My mother’s side was never known for their creative way with words. Poetry runs deep in my family.

One afternoon Mrs. A was stopped waiting to turn left from Hwy. 85 onto Stonewall, her daughter T babbling away in the passenger’s seat. We’ll never know what caused Mrs. A to turn her blinker off and decide to go straight instead of making that left turn, but whatever the reason, the result was catastrophic because my fourth grade sister, Jan – seeing that Mrs. A had her blinker on to turn left – had already started crossing the street. When she changed her mind, turning her blinker off and hitting the gas to go forward, Mrs. A ran right into and over Jan.

Before you ask, there was no traffic light there. Shoot, there were only two lights in the entire town – maybe the entire county – at that time. There was no crossing guard and no need for one. No loud speaker chirped or croaked when it was okay to cross the road. We looked both ways and had the good sense to know when nobody was coming.

Fayetteville also had no ambulance service, but we had a shiny new funeral home complete with a shiny white hearse, and here it came with C. J. behind the wheel, stopping in the middle of the intersection, then pulling forward and backing up a few times to get himself in a better position to put Jan on the stretcher and load her into the back.

Now when Mrs. A’s bumper met Jan’s fourth grade sized body, I was in the dentist office at the end of the block up on the second floor, getting my regular braces tune-up. Greg E. came barreling up those steep stairs, throwing open the door to Dr. Waters’ office, and with his hands on his knees to help him catch his breath, rasped out “Come. Quick. There’s. Been. An accident. Jan’s. Been. Hit. By a car.”

I raced past him, running the 57 steps to the intersection to see Jan laying on the pavement, and that’s when my knees turned into jello that hasn’t quite set up yet, leaving me with no choice but to lay myself down on the tailgate of McElroy’s Furniture Store delivery truck. From that vantage point, I turned my head to the side to watch C. J. come speeding over in his hearse and a few minutes later, Mother come running over from the nearby Board of Education office. Her tight skirt and spiked heels of that particular fashion era didn’t slow her down one little bit.

The hearse left, the crowd disbursed, and I got somebody to take me out to Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house. They hadn’t been told, of course, so I told them everything I knew, then called Daddy to fill him in, instructing him to come pick me up so we could go to the hospital together. Fortunately, he was good at following directions.

Well, he did as he was told that day, anyway.

The waiting room at the hospital was fairly full, but not everybody could come cause somebody had to stay home to tend to homework and supper, so I made a list of people who needed to know as well as the names of those who’d come over to cock their head and look down at me while I laid on the tailgate, telling me to be sure to keep them updated. With a roll of quarters in hand, I set up at the pay phone in the waiting room and worked the phone, establishing a phone tree to take some of the pressure off me and keep a smile on the face of Those Who Like To Know Bad Things First.

Right away, Jan had surgery to remove her spleen, then they set about setting her broken bones. She was in the hospital for a good while, and when she came home in her full body cast, it was with the understanding that the medical folk weren’t at all sure she’d walk again.

Her cast – and these were in the days when casts were casts – plaster. Heavy. Immovable. Showed dirt easily. Well, both Jan’s legs were in this cast that came up just above her waist. Mother used the bar that had been conveniently located between the two legs of the cast to help her move Jan around as needed.

Jan got a lot of loot, let me tell you, because these kinds of spectacular things just didn’t happen in Fayetteville she was so well loved. One time The Jeanne I Wish I Wasn’t confided to Helen Graves how I was getting sick and tired of Jan getting so many cards, flowers, and gifts – GREAT gifts, mind you – and Helen came back the next day with a little something for me: a dickey (not the coveralls but the turtleneck with a bib down the front and back) that was burgundy on one side and a green-yellow-white-blue-and-burgundy print on the other. The only thing that could make me love that dickey more is if I knew that her son Jimmy coveted it.

Eventually the cast came off, and Jan was transferred to a wheelchair . . . which is harder than you might imagine to push around on a dirt driveway when you’re playing basketball, so I just decided to park Jan and her chariot to one side and let her watch. Having grown quite accustomed to being the Little Sweetheart at the center of Everybody’s Attention To make herself useful, she pushed herself out of that wheelchair when the ball bounced her way, and she walked from that moment on.

Fast forward seven years . . .

I am a sophomore in college, engaged to The Engineer who’s finishing up at Georgia Tech. It’s Friday of a busy weekend. The Engineer has finals and has contracted with me to type his papers up and have them ready to turn in on Monday. He is also to be in the wedding of his best friend from high school, and the rehearsal dinner is that night with the wedding following on Saturday afternoon. My family is out of town, camping in the new Winnebago, leaving Grandmother and Granddaddy to move into our house so that I am chaperoned appropriately.

I work as an administrative assistant to the administrator of Doctors Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, and as I leave work that fateful Friday afternoon and start across Linden Avenue headed to the parking lot where my chariot awaits, a car that had been parked along the curb pulls out quickly and guns it – you guessed it – causing him to run into and over me.

You’ve seen those cartoons where some character is on the ground looking up at the faces that surround her? Well, this time that character was me. I recognized the hospital’s security guard, so I grabbed Tom’s tie, pulled him down further than he thought he could bend, and said, “There’s a gurney in the front hall next to so-and-so’s office. Go fetch it and bring it out here. Get Hazel (in her office, third one on the left) and John (across the hall from Hazel) to come back and help you get me on it.”

Off he went, leaving me there to entertain the onlookers. Eventually he was back, seemingly surprised that the gurney and the people I requested had been right where I said they’d be. Doctors Memorial didn’t have an emergency room, so I kinda’ had to direct things. “Pull the gurney up alongside me,” I told Tom, “and mash that lever right there to lower it down as close as possible. Now, Hazel, I want you to take my left shoulder, John you take my right shoulder, and Tom, I want you to get my feet, and on the count of three – when I SAY ‘3’ – y’all lift me up as gently as you can and lay me down on the gurney. One, two, three.”

Then I had them roll me back into the hospital and bring me a phone so I could call The Engineer, Grandmother and Granddaddy, and an orthopedic doctor cause though I didn’t know specifically what, I knew I’d broken something. Turns out it was my left knee, and I had a full-leg plaster cast to call my own. Dr. S. Bethea later tried to hire me away from the hospital, but based on what he offered, I didn’t think he appreciated my skill sets nearly enough for me to make the change. I mean, shoot, if it’d been up to the Doctors Memorial security guard, I’d still be laying in the middle of Linden Avenue, blocking traffic.

Mother, Daddy, and The Engineer made up a taxi schedule, getting me to and from work. When The Engineer and I went on dates, I rode in the backseat where I could stretch my casted leg out on the seat, and we held hands over the back of the front seat, leaving him to steer with his left hand. Once we went to a place that offered valet parking, and you should’ve seen the look on the parking attendant’s face as he tried to figure out which door(s) to open. Fortunately for him, I had it all figured out by then and could direct.

When I went in for my fifth week checkup, The Ortho took an x-ray and said he didn’t think my leg was ready to come out of the cast. I grabbed him by the tie, pulled him down to my eye level, and said, “Go get your saw ’cause I’m getting married next weekend, and I’m not wearing this plaster cast under my pouffy white dress or on my honeymoon. Now scoot.”

He did, and I didn’t, and well, I’ll tell you more about that another time.

Oh, and the worst thing about when I got hit by the car (depending on who you ask)? I was wearing Jan’s dress, and when the car pushed me along Linden Avenue, the asphalt rubbed a hole in the upper back shoulder area. She was not happy, even after the dry cleaners did what I thought was a decent job of mending.


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