In the 60’s, living in the woods of Vermont involved a lot of down time because there was hardly any t.v. reception, and certainly no cell phones. Riding a bicycle was the only way to experience the feeling of freedom, and how much fun you have on that bike is dependent upon how hard packed and smooth the dirt road is. One summer day, David, the neighbor closest to my age stopped by, and we anxiously rode up the road to Cavendish town. It was always a big deal when we got permission to go all the way to town about 2 ½ miles from where we lived. The partial shade of the trees made cool spots along the way. It was a free feeling to weave and change speeds at a whim as we enjoyed the sounds of the tires sliding and rolling along on the dirt. We got to the end of the dirt part of our ride where the railroad crossing marked the spot that the pavement started. Pavement riding was rare. We stopped for a few minutes to talk with a pretty girl who was a classmate of ours, but unfortunately that was the last thing I actually remembered about that ride. My friends and neighbors filled me in on the rest of the ride a few days later.
David told me later on, that we were riding along for about the next mile, and when we got to the stone underpass we decided to race toward home. I remember I was riding my sister’s pale green bike with fat tires. We peddled rapidly along the flat after the underpass where the train tracks went over the road. I was in the lead. As we were rounding a corner, he was passing me on the left and I was apparently looking over my right shoulder. I never got the chance to straighten my handlebars to stay on the road, and drifted off the edge of the road into an ash tree. David came back to see how I was and he said I was lying half on the road and half of my body was over the bank. He says he yelled to see if I was alright several times with no response and he could hear gurgling coming from my chest. At that point he peddled off in a hurry, and as he was riding he spotted my father at our friend and neighbor Jerry Cross’ house. David rode up the driveway and said to my father, “I think Rick is dead, he’s lying on the side of the road up past Crazy Lil’s house toward the underpass.” Jerry had my father got into his station wagon and they took off up the road to find me.
Meanwhile some guy in a pickup truck had stopped to see what had happened to me, as I was lying there alone on the side of the road. My father arrived on the scene and began yelling at the man, believing he had run me over, as David had provided no details. The man then explained in a hurry that he had just come along and saw me there. He added, “I wouldn’t touch him, he looks dead.” Dad quickly scooped me up and put me in the back of the station wagon and off they went to the local clinic in Cavendish. Upon arrival a nurse began questioning my father about whether or not I was on any medications or if I had taken any drugs and what else had happened. At that point, my father lost patience and slammed his fist on the tailgate of the station wagon…and I am told the license plate fell off. Jerry took off toward the hospital in Springfield, leaving the nurse standing there with a blank paper. Somehow I ended up inside and in a private intensive care unit bed. I remember it was just like a television rendition of someone waking up from a coma. I saw my mother standing next to me in a white enclosure around my bed that looked like white sheets.
“Ma, what happened? Where am I?” I remember saying.
“You hit a tree on the bicycle I guess,” she replied. My mother was both shocked by the accident, and timid around doctors.
“Did I wreck the bike?” I asked. She told me I had, but not to worry about it. I could only imagine how angry my sister would be, because it was her bike.
Then the doctor chimed in, “That’s a good sign, at least he recognizes you,” to my mother. I had given myself a serious concussion from hitting the tree so hard at the racing speed we were traveling.
A bit later I recall the nurse holding my hand and repeating, “I told you not to sit up, I told you not to sit up!” Because I had lost my equilibrium, I could only remain conscious while lying flat on my back. I was bed ridden over the next few days, and had to lay flat, even to eat, drink, and everything else. I lost about 12 pounds and a lot of my strength. I can recall how weak I felt, and how it seemed to take a long time to feel normal and feel like I had balance again. The accident damaged my hearing for life, as I hit the tree with the left side of my head. My wife just recently talked me into getting hearing aids so she wouldn’t have to repeat herself so often! Too bad helmets weren’t encouraged at that point in time.
I often revisit my past, though a lot of it makes me cringe. As the saying goes, accidents happen. Apparently, I had a lot of them happen in my youth. Today I look back at these incidents as character forming, and with thankfulness that I survived!
© Rick Wyman.