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Cheating Death

May 13, 2012 • 2 comments • 3585 views

As a young man, my parents and I were driving back to Camden, Arkansas, in tornado weather. My mother, brother Cliff, and I were silenced by the shaking and trembling of the 1957 Ford Fairlane as my Dad, Wilse Edwards, fought to hold the car on the road. Sand, trees, bushes, barn tin and other assorted projectiles were crossing in front of the car's headlights. Mom was praying aloud for us to find safe refuge.


All of a sudden a steepled church appeared in a small grove of trees. Its lights were a beam to us, and people from the area were scurrying in. A man yelled, "Honey we have a basement. The tornado is right behind you!" It sounded like a freight train. We got sandburned as we ran for the shelter of the church basement. I was to start Kindergarten the next year in Columbus, Mississippi. I made it. The power of prayer saved us, I was sure. The town was destroyed.


When I was 13 and a pitcher for the local baseball team, I left a family fish fry in Newark, Arkansas, on my Benelli 125 motorcycle to get to the ballpark early to warm up. My Dad worked in St. Louis, Missouri, and had just arrived with a hot new spark plug for my cycle. I couldn't wait to see how much faster it would run. I strapped by cleats on the rear seat, turned my ball cap around backward, and took off for the park. Within a couple of miles, Mrs. Gilbert Nash was driving a one ton hay truck with her two grandsons, the back window vision blocked by haybales. She was in front of me and needed to be passed!


As I flew around her, I didn't realize she was turning left. Her left front bumper caught my right ankle throwing me in the path of the old truck. She ran over the motorcycle with me still firmly attached, but it didn't stop then. She freaked out and drove on down the road with me and Benelli hung under the burning hot engine. She then proceeded to try to back out of the ditch with my ankle and right leg still hooked around her front bumper. The man at the service station across the road ran over and stopped her.


They couldn't get me out from under the truck without waiting for a wrecker. I heard a man say, "That's Wilse's boy. Better call him before it's too late." I prayed for deliverance from who knows what kind of internal injuries and broken bones and that Dad wouldn't have to see me before they get me out from under this tangled mess and into the ambulance. I'll never forget seeing him kneeling to talk to me under the engine where I was pinned. "I'll be alright Dad. Just please get this truck off me!" "Okay, hold on!" he said.


I saw his wingtip shoes trot off. The first hospital in Newport couldn't help me because of extensive bone injuries and need for skin grafts. We wound up over 100 miles away in St. Bernard Catholic Hospital in Jonesboro. When I awoke, I saw three nuns in full habit leaning over me. "Heaven's gates!" I thought. I heard the bone surgeon explaining how stainless steel screws would help me mend and skin off my left leg or rear end would help my right shin heal. I prayed for God to help me through the next several months and to remind me to not let my kids, if I ever had any, ever own a motorcycle.


The doctor told my parents I would always walk with a limp and future sports were out of the question. A percentage of disability would later be determined (I was clocked at a 3.8 second 40 yard dash by Coach Minter two years later and set the local high school pole vault record!).


My mother had been hospitalized in a mental institution twice for depression from moving the family 19 times in nine years. She took 150,000 volts to the brain in 16 separate shock treatments, as they experimented with her. My brother and myself got really close to my father in those long weeks without my Mom, and the family finally decided to put us with a childless aunt and uncle while mother was hospitalized. Another school move and another nightmare uncle story for another day (he put me down a well, among other things).


Back to Lexington, Missouri, mother recovered beautifully and got pregnant at 40 years old and had our special gift from God, Mary Susan Edwards, my sister, a perfect and brilliant child, her "Daddy's little darling." A miracle again for us to behold, at mother's age and recent shock treatments, we knew this perfect child was indeed a blessing.


On track again in Lexington, then back to Newark where Cliff could graduate and be a local basketball star. He was. Then I could go back to St. Louis's Mehlville High School on crutches, a four-story mega high school with stairs, no elevators. Still, things were going great. Cliff was at his first year in college, I was doing well in high school, the second surgery on my leg was a success (thank goodness for that; the bone surgeon died right after the surgery!).


Susan was still in diapers. I was making good money babysitting while Mom and Dad enjoyed pilot parties at Weiss Airport. Dad was a private pilot since his college days running track for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He and I were planning to rent a Cessna airplane to fly to his mother's lakehouse airport at Heber Springs, Arkansas. I was to take my first period Algebra test, and he would pick me up to go to Weiss Airport. He had taught me to fly, mostly shooting touch and goes, and how to contact emergency frequency on the plane's radio, and how to put the plane in a nose-up altitude at full throttle to get him off the wheel "Just in case I have a stroke or heart attack," he said.


My Dad died at 48. The recent airman's physical had showed my Dad to be healthy. He decided to sleep over me in the bunk bed, where Mom and Susan could sleep in that Friday morning, December 2, 1966. I awoke first and put Dad's coffee water on. I tried to wake him, but it was of no use. He was gone. I prayed for God to wake him like Lazarus. I tried to make deals. I knew I had to wake Mom. This loss wounded me for life. (I later reflected on what may have happened if he had died in the cockpit with me.)


We moved to New Boston, Texas (I drove), to be near family. It was a good decision Mother made prayerfully. We bought a brick home with a faulty heating system. The vent didn't quite make it to the roof! The remaining four of us were poisoned of carbon monoxide gas and crawled out of the house to the front lawn, throwing up, to be rescued by a passing motorist. Money was short, so Mom had a guy patch the vent pipe. It slid down again weeks later, and we crawled out a second time. Dodged another bullet, but lost a few million brain cells!


Before he died, my Dad had the motorcycle completely fixed. He had been thrown out of a Model T, showing out for a girlfriend in Newark when he was a teenager, and my grandfather told him "If a horse throws you, you've got to get back on him!" I got back on my Benelli and was racing Cliff, my brother, in his Mustang back from the bowling alley with a sack of hamburgers tied on back whena 92 year old man in a '54 Chevrolet four-door sedan pulled in front of me, saw me, freaked out, and stopped in my path. I was going 60 miles per hour, and I t-boned his right front door. My head hit the passenger glass.


The man raced off. Cliff ran him down. The cycle was destroyed. I, mysteriously, did not have a scratch.


My cousin's husband, Bill Gregston, a Hanner Funeral Home director and my best friend, bought a car, installed a four barrel carb on the 383 engine. We decided to take it on a test run. We had a flat going to Texarkana, and the spare had a big knot on it. We were on the way back to New Boston, and as he accelerated to over 120 miles per hour, I begged him to slow down, praying silently, grabbing the bottom of the glove box after fastening my seat belt.


The tire blew out close to 135 miles per hour, and we flipped end over end three times near the Summerhill Road bridge. Bill was thrown through the rear window and was killed.


I was pinned in the wreckage, upside down, the roof flattened over me so that I couldn't get out. It was after dark. Cliff was in front of us in a Gulf truck. He saw the wreck, turned around and helped emergency crews extricate me quickly as the car was pouring gasoline all over me. I laid in the ditch with my head using the spare tire as a pillow, broken bones and lacerations, glass powder damaging my eyes.


One after another, I have faced hardship and tragedy. After all this, including stories yet to be told of canoe wrecks, a plane crash in a lake, and a log truck rolling down a mountainous hill (no brakes!), I can say thanks be to God that I am alive today.


"My God supplies all my needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ." Philippians 4:19


by Glen Edwards, 2010

Also appears in:

A Writer's Touch



I don't usually publish non-poetry pieces, but this is a striking piece of memoir, and deserves to be read, if only to give others a sense of the fragility and value of life! Thank you, Glen.
05.16.12 •
This certainly puts life in perspective. I am utterly speechless after reading this piece. Thank you for sharing. And God bless.
05.17.12 •
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