After Thanksgiving, fresh inches of snow fell every few days in Spring Arbor, Michigan, so most afternoons a couple dozen kids went sledding down Pretty’s Hill after school. By Christmas we had the snow packed into a hard base that should last through February.
On the first Saturday of 1954, five days before my twelfth birthday, we got a contest going to see who could get the farthest into Marilyn Baker’s garden. We had to slide to the bottom of the hill, through an opening in the hedgerow, across Chapel Road, and into the garden.
Only two sleds could fit side-by-side through the hedgerow, so we went in pairs. Dick Dodge and I stepped up to the line.
The starter looked downhill and checked the hedgerow guard. The guard waved the all clear—no cars coming. We held our sleds up in front of us.
The starter raised her arm. “Ready?”
She dropped her arm. “Go!”
We dived down the hill onto our sleds and zoomed toward the hedgerow side by side. Yet Dick pulled farther and farther ahead until halfway down he moved right over in front of me. Dick would win this one.
But right before the hedgerow, his sled threw up a huge spray of snow. He skidded cross-ways in the path and stopped. My chance!
I swerved around Dick lying there on his sled and sped through the hedgerow. As I shot out onto Chapel Road, I glanced left.
A 1952 Chevrolet was about a foot and a half from my face.
I woke up on my back about 80 yards to the right with all the kids off Pretty’s Hill crowded around and gawking down at me bug-eyed, not saying a thing.
I lay still, and no one tried to move me.
The pieces of sky between their faces still held the same gray clouds as when Dick and I approached the starting line, but now my back pushed down against ice. The light jacket that kept the wind out let the ice suck the warmth from my back. Someone draped a coat over me, but I still shivered.
They were black with orange trim. The thick wool kept my fingers warm even soaked in wet snow. That was all I wanted. My mittens. After a while, two kids slid them onto my hands.
My mother pushed through the children and knelt by me on the ice. “Davy!”
She had a heavy brown scarf tied over her ears. With one hand she grasped the lapels of her coat to hold it closed over her house dress, and with the other she adjusted the coat that was draped over me, tucking it tighter around my neck.
An ambulance wailed up Chapel Road and whined to a stop by us. The circle opened, and George Vinson’s face moved in next to Mother’s. “Hi, Dave. We’ll take you to Foote.” I had always pictured him picking up broken strangers, but George called me by name. He slid me onto the stretcher. “You’ll be fine.”
George and the driver lifted the stretcher with me on it and settled it into the back of the ambulance. The landing jolted me, but they covered me with a blanket and helped Mother onto a seat beside the stretcher. All the way into Jackson she held my hand.
At Foote Hospital, they dragged me onto a high cart with wheels and pushed me into a narrow gray room with fluorescent lights that glared. I couldn’t find Mother.
Nothing hurt, but my teeth chattered with the cold. I tucked my arms close around me and started to drift away. A nurse held up a tube. She said “catheter” and “this might hurt a little.” She inserted it, and blood rose up in the tube.
I drifted farther, and the last thing I saw in that narrow room was a nurse running out into the hall.
I woke up in another room—not as narrow, and no glaring lights, but the same gray. A sharp pain burned in my chest, and if I took a breath, my ribs screamed. The edge of a white bandage drooped partly over my left eye, so I reached up and felt the tape that held it to my forehead.
The cart was gone. I lay in a bed, and Mother sat in the chair beside the bed.
I asked for a drink, and when the nurse brought the water, another nurse followed her to my door and grinned at me. After she left, nurses and doctors came to my door all day long and smiled at me.
That day in 1954, their visits seemed normal. But as thirty-three years went by, I began to wonder what brought them. Finally, in 1987, on the first Sunday in January, I had to ask.
I left the dinner table and climbed the hill to my parents’ house.
“Mom, do you remember when the car hit me and I was in Foote Hospital?”
“The doctors and nurses acted strange. Remember?”
“The way they crowded into the doorway and smiled.”
Mother’s lips pursed together and flashed off and on into her bashful smile.
“Listen, Mom. Yesterday we went to visit Florence in the hospital. Not one nurse or doctor stopped at the door of her room the entire morning. But in 1954, doctors and nurses came to the door of that Foote Hospital room all morning. Remember? They grinned at me and at each other. I even got a spit-ball war going with two of the nurses.
“I’m almost 50 now, and I’ve seen many patients in many hospital rooms, but I have never seen doctors or nurses stop in the doorway merely to smile. Stick their head in and wave? It doesn’t happen. Why did they do that at Foote, Mother?”
My mother lost her smile and stared up at me for a minute. “Davy, you don’t know, do you!” Mother started to cry.
“No, Mom. Know what?”
She wiped her eyes. “I just never…”
Mother swallowed and started again. “See, when that car hit you, the ambulance took you to the hospital, and you went into a coma. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
“They told us to go home and get ready for your funeral. At prayer meeting that night in Spring Arbor they prayed for you. Then a lot of people stayed all night in the old stone church and prayed for you.”
Prayed for me? How could they pick me out from the swarm of kids who skidded bikes around on Teft Road and fought snowball wars on the way home from school? Most adults in our village called me Bob, my big brother’s name.
These people had worked a full day. They could have gone home and crawled into warm beds, but they stayed all night on that hardwood floor and knelt at those straight-backed pews and asked the Lord to heal the neighbors’ child. I wanted to go back thirty-three years and hug each one.
“Then Thursday morning you woke up and asked for water.”
“So, those nurses and doctors….”
“The news traveled all over Foote Hospital about your being in a coma,” Mom said. “They were only waiting for you to die.”
“So, when I woke up.…”
“You opened your eyes—I’ll never forget. I was sitting by your bed. And they started coming to the door, and they looked so happy. All day long people from all over the hospital stopped in to see if it was true—if you really were alive.”
Mom looked away. “The doctors never could tell us what tore loose from your insides. All we could do was take you home and wait for your crushed pelvis to knit back together. And watch you learn to walk again.”
Mother looked back at me. “I just never thought to tell you.”
I understood. My mother would never think to tell me a miracle had let me live. Not if every doctor from the five floors and six wings of Foote Hospital came to her door would she utter that word about one of hers. Her faith was the quiet kind. John the Baptist’s mother could come out of seclusion and sing, “Look what the Lord has done for me!” But my mother sang soft hymns and talked to the Lord with tears dripping off her chin into the dish water.
So for thirty-three years she quietly thanked the Lord for keeping me alive. And now it was my turn.
I sent this version to Guideposts for their collection called, Miracles something.
Someday I might try to improve the flow.