Friday, October 28, 2011

Summer Vacation 6

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green
Part VI

After a week in the hospital my father decided it was time to go home. I suppose he had to get back to work and the thought of mounting medical costs was part of that decision. Even though the doctors said I should stay another week under the watchful eyes of medical professionals, my father had made up his mind. It seemed he couldn’t wait to put a lot of distance between us and Mohegan hollow as quickly as possible.
As luck would have it, the station wagon made a convenient transport for a patient who could not sit up. I could, however, roll, being at this point an oblong bowling ball.
So he figured that if I had a pillow on either side of me, I was good to go.  And, so, being loaded, padded and stuffed, the rest of the family jumped in and we began a long, torturous, 12-hour journey back to Orlando.
I don’t remember much of the trip as I was being held captive in la-la land by some pretty heavy pain killers. But Dad told me later that he would drive as long as he could before he was forced to stop for much needed sleep and, sure enough, shortly, I would wake up and groan in pain. They would feed me another pain pill and it was back on the road again.
Back home in Orlando I took up residence in my own bed where I stayed, pretty much, the rest of the summer.
Mom was working as a nurse for an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jack Gresham. He was also a member of our church and we had known him and his family for many years.
Dr. Gresham would take time out of his very busy schedule to come over and check on me. He would give me the shots and medicine I needed and would make sure I was recovering as I should.
Friends, neighbors, and church members would stop by to check on me and bring food or cards and well wishes. It is during these times that we learn to really appreciate the extended family.
I received a call one day from the writer/reporter, Charlie Reese, of the Orlando Sentinel’s “Hush Puppies” column. The interview, done over the phone, resulted in an article whose title I stole for the story you are now reading. Charlie called back several times to follow up on my recovery. And, I believe, wrote a follow-up article about that.
My Jr. High school coach took full credit for my survival. It was, after all, because of the ‘great physical condition’ that I was in at the time of the accident that made it all possible. I was, in all fairness, probably in the best shape of my life and was looking forward to starting my ‘career’ with the school’s football team the following year. The last thing Coach Vernon Gross told me as he said goodbye for the summer was to "keep up the good work over the summer and come back ready to play football."
Well, sorry coach. That just didn’t work out. The cast was removed only two days before school started. I was still getting used to being vertical and sitting in chairs. Those first few months were a challenge to say the least.  Instead of starting on the football team, my parents were told that I had to protect my back at all costs. If I were to break my back again, I may be crippled the rest of my life.
So, instead, I spent that class time working in the library every day. And I was good at it and I learned a lot of things that have stayed with me to this day.
I did make up for my inability to participate in ‘contact sports’ by lettering in Track and Field two years in a row. I can still remember what a big deal Coach Gross made of it as he presented my first Letter and the standing ovation I received from the student body as I walked across that stage.
 I didn’t become the big football star I had dreamed about. I didn’t get to do a lot of things that my friends got to do. But I did get to wear a letterman’s sweater that I earned. I did play the guitar and piano – not very well, mind you, but I did.
I learned to appreciate my family and friends as well as my faith and I learned that faith can get you through a lot of things that nothing else can.
I learned that I still enjoy fireworks but I am very leery of standing close to the edge of high places and of taking dares even from people I know and love. And if I have one regret … you know, they told me that when they set off that firecracker, it echoed through that valley for 10 minutes. I would have loved to hear that.
The End

End notes: I have just found the articles mentioned above and there are some changes I must include here; First the title came from an article in the local Welch, W. Va. newspaper and 2nd, the reporter in the Orlando Sentinel was Charlie Wadsworth . Sorry about that Mr. Wadsworth and thank you for recording my story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Summer Vacation 5

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green
Part V

I awoke to find myself in a very bright place. My head was very fuzzy but I realized that I felt comfortable and cool and everything was very bright.
Voices. I could hear the soft whispers of female voices. As I looked toward my feet to try and locate the source of the sound, I saw two figures at the foot of my bed. All dressed in white and very bright. Everything was very bright.
“Oh. Look. He’s waking up.”
A few giggles and they were gone. I thought they must be angels but my wife suggested they were probably nurses. Too bad, I rather liked the idea of angels.
Well, I had no idea where I was or why I was there but it was obvious to me that I didn’t belong there and I was probably going to be in trouble if my parents found out. So my only thought was - escape. I had to get to a place that I recognized some place that looked familiar. Someplace – anyplace but here. “I’ve gotta get outta here.”
The fog was clearing and I was beginning to see shapes and colors. I was in a bed in a big room – a room that was surrounded with widows. It was the room at end of the floor and the room, I later learned, was called the Sun Room. Yeah, well, that fit.
I had to get out of that bed and get out of there. So I tried to roll out of bed but, for some reason, my body would not roll. O.K., so I tried to sit up straight, but I could not.
“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I move?”
I smacked my chest with both hands but I did not feel my chest - what I felt was hard and hollow.
“What the…?”
I grabbed the sheet and pulled it down over my chest to reveal a big, heavy white cast that seemed to cover most of my body.
As I inspected the cast, I found that it was all around my body and went from under my chin to just over my hips. I was stunned and convinced that this was some kind of sick joke. I believe that I started screaming - demanding to know where I was and what I was doing there and what is up with this cast?
When someone came into the room, I’m sure it must have been my parents, they finally explained what had happened and that it was some kind of miracle that I was alive at all.
The next week is a bit of a blur but I remember that shortly after I came to, the cast I was in was becoming very tight, very tight, so tight that I could only breathe in short, shallow breathes.
It seems from all the cuts and abrasions, my body was swelling and out-growing the cast. Their answer to the problem was to cut a hole in the cast about 4” by 6” just above my diaphragm.
The result of this plan was that I could look down and see 4” of cast then 1 ½” of my belly protruding above the new hole and then the rest of the cast. It was humorous. I would have laughed … if I could breathe.
Enter: the oxygen tent. Wonderful invention.  Cool, cool air falling constantly over your head and chest. Wonderful.
Eventually the swelling went down and I could breathe normally and all I had to deal with was the pain. The pain. My whole body was in pain. My body was bandaged up from the gashes in my skull…and legs … and my hands were splinted and wrapped because they were so broken that I was told I would never play guitar again. And, of course, there were the two broken vertebra in my back. But, I was alive.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Summer Vacation 4

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green
Part IV

A few seconds earlier, my Dad turned around and said “Where’s David?”
Danny answered, “I don’t know, he was here just a second ago.”
You can imagine the horror that hits a parent when they realize their child has just fallen over the side of a mountain and that the chances of surviving a fall like that are very slim, indeed. Horror!
Dad immediately put Danny, the oldest of the group, in charge.
“Get them back to the road and back to the house. Tell them what happened and call for help. Go!”
My father started down the side of the mountain in a zigzag pattern using whatever trees or vegetation he could find to steady himself to keep from falling.
He had grown up on this mountain. He had worked the coalmines and hunted game on this mountain but presently found himself in a strange, horrifying place.
The late afternoon sun had not dipped behind the mountains yet. As I woke up, the sun was bright and warm on my face and I could hear my father calling my name.
It was, again, surreal, I didn’t feel mangled. I realized that I was sitting in an upright position as if I had just come to sit down and rest for a while - except for all of the loose rock lying on and around me – very dusty, as I recall. I didn’t feel the need to get up or go to my father but, instead, called out to him. “Dad, hey, Dad, I’m over here. “
I had no sense or recollection of what had just happened to me and felt, strangely… relaxed.
My father was half out of his mind with grief and overwhelmed to have found me at all, much less, miracle of miracles, alive! I’m sure it never occurred to him that I might have been seriously injured because he just knelt down and, with his back to me said, “Here, just put your arms around my neck and I’ll carry you out of here.”
It seemed like a fine plan to me so I just did what he said.
 When he tried to pick me up, the flash of pain was beyond belief and I passed out.
The next thing I remember was looking up into the faces of my uncles, my father, and a couple of the ‘Bishop boys’, my grandmother’s neighbors. I was on some sort of stretcher and they were working very hard to hold me up and try to keep their footing at the same time.
Someone had brought a blanket and my father had cut two small trees with his pocket knife and rolled them up in the blanket to make a bed. And these men were trying to hold on to that thing while trying to navigate some very steep and treacherous ground.
 It seems that I had come to rest only about 100 yards from the river bank. But the ground was so steep that the only way they could walk was for one man to step down on one side then one on the other and the end of the gurney was handed to them so the next pair could step down. It was a very slow, tedious process.
Luckily, the river was low enough that time of year that a shallow crossing could be made just a few yards from Grandma’s house.
 By this time, the whole community was aware of the accident and somewhere, someone had brought a proper rolling, collapsible stretcher.
The next memory I have is being lifted into the back of my father’s station wagon, seeing women standing there with hankies and tears in their eyes. I watched the headliner move past me as the stretcher was rolled into place.
The next flash of memory was a few hours later in the hospital hallway with my father talking to me. But in the mean time, I was taken to an upscale clinic where I was refused admittance because my family did not have medical insurance at the time.
Next, I was taken to Welch General Hospital where no questions were asked. Instead, I was rushed to the emergency room and what clothing still remained on my body was cut away and I was prepared for surgery.
Back in the hallway I remember my father asking me with tears in his eyes, “David, if you die here tonight, are you prepared to go to heaven?”
“Yes, of course, I am, Dad.” Church was a very big part of our lives and I had given my heart to God at an early age.
 I remember thinking, “What an odd question to ask.” I obviously had no clue just how dire a situation I was in and just assumed that I was going to be fine.
The next flash I remember was a big, round, pale green light above my body. There were people wearing masks and someone was trying to force some kind of thing over my face. I could smell the noxious gas coming from it as they were telling me to relax and breathe deeply.
“Screw that! Get that thing away from me!”
They told me it took 6 men to hold me down until the ether took it’s effect. ( I love that part of the story!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Summer vacation Part 3

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green
Part III

Strip mining was a terrible thing. Many of the mountains in my home state and other places around the country were scarred for decades. It involved digging into the side of the mountain to get to the coal. The dirt, rocks and slate that were useless were then summarily dumped over the side of the hill and just left there. Eventually nature caught up and trees and bushes grew into the loose mixture and covered the awful scars that were left.
This gorge was one of those sites where several feet of loose rocks were just laying where they had been dumped.  You can imagine what it was like with layer upon layer of flat rock just laying loose on the steep slope there.
As I entered the gorge, the rocks beneath my feet started to slip and slide over the loose rocks below. The faster I tried to move the faster the rocks would slide.
There is a theory that if you’re slipping downhill, you should reverse your direction and start running uphill. I tried that with no effect – I just continued to slip and slide more quickly downhill.
My next thought was to sit down and spread out to try and catch more real estate and thereby slow my fall. All this did was to help me catch the very lip at the end of the slide for a brief second before tumbling into open space.
The next few minutes seemed like a lifetime passing in only a few seconds – if that makes any sense at all.
From this point on, I have only flashes of memory, bits here and there that I have pieced together with the stories I was told by others who were there.
I must have already hit the bottom of the first cliff (of the three cliffs I rolled over) because, as I rolled, I remember looking up only to see the side of the mountain going round and round. This part became a nightmare that haunted me for years.
Being caught in an unbelievable, surrealistic situation you find yourself or, at least, I found myself, literally saying out loud, “What is happening to me?”
Of course, the answer was painfully obvious. So I determined that I had to do something to stop this roll.
As I rolled, I could look downhill every few frames in this horror film. Below me, I saw a small tree that was in my direct path.
“That’s it! I have to catch that little tree and I’ll be fine.”
I realized that I would have to catch that tree to have any chance of stopping my roll towards what I was convinced would be a painful death.
I actually did it! I actually timed it perfectly so that I grabbed the yearling as I barreled past it. Amazing!
Unfortunately, the next thing I remember is indelibly burned into my memory: I saw my hand in front of my face, as the rest of the world spun wildly beyond, firmly grasping the tree and the roots of that tree clearly at the bottom of my fist.
Great … just great.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Summer vacation Part 2

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green
Part II

We crossed the old concrete bridge, across some coal flats and started our ascent up the old coal road. The trip to the top was uneventful, as I recall, with only a few stops to look at an animal or plant or rock.  We were always fascinated with the little sea creatures that were captured and forever entombed in the rocks that made up the mountains. 
Once at the homestead it was good to see the old place still standing but it showed the neglect of time and wear. The old well was still there and we could have pulled a bucket of fresh spring water. Well, that is, if we had a bucket … and some rope.
The apple trees (that we used to climb into to eat green apples until we were sick) were gone and the hedges of berry bushes were grown over and grandma’s flowers and garden had long since gone to dust. But the air was still as clean and clear and fresh as I remembered. The streams that we stopped by were still as cold and clean as ever and the water tasted wonderful. There’s just something about drinking from fresh mountain stream.
On the way back we had stopped for something. I think one of my brothers had become ill or something. I suppose it could have had something to do with all the gunpowder we had handled the night before. But most likely it was something he had eaten.
For whatever reason, we were stopped on a narrow part of the road on what amounted to a wide ledge. During this break in the action, my cousin Danny, who probably had a huge firecracker in his pocket, decided to go down into a narrow gorge.
Danny, always the adventurous one, invited me into the gorge. Keep in mind, Danny had been born and raised in these same mountains his whole life and was more comfortable than the rest of us “lowlanders”.
I refused the offer but Danny would not be dissuaded. “Come on down! You’ll be fine.”
After a few rounds of that debate and not wanting to be ‘shown up’ by my cousin, I decided to join him in the gorge.
“O.K., but if I die, I’ll never speak to you again.” I said, using a popular phrase of the time. Unfortunately, that was the last thing that anyone would hear me say.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Summer Vacation - Part I

Boy, 12, Rolls, Falls 600 Feet

What I did on my Summer Vacation
By David L. Green

Hurray! The 4th of July!
 This holiday started just like so many before it. Little did I know that this one was going to change my life.
Around the 4th of July every year as many of the families that could - would converge in the valley below Mohegan Hollow at my grandmother’s house outside Welch, West Virginia.  It would be a grand reunion and the summer celebration of America’s Independence with hotdogs and watermelons and all the trimmings.
I have vivid memories of my Dad and his brothers shooting at the bats that would come out around dusk. They weren’t using guns, oh, no. They would use “Roman Candles”. It was a time for fireworks, after all.
The colorful fiery balls would fly in all directions and with all their skills and with all the, doubtless, hundreds of shots fired, I don’t remember them ever hitting a single bat. But they had great fun trying to bring down the flying critters and acting like crazy little boys again. Shades of their childhood, I’m sure.
Beside the traditions of that summer event there was another that we would always keep. You see, my grandparents raised their family up on mountain – “up the holler’ “ - and I can still remember visiting them when they lived up there but that’s a story for another time. After the kids had all moved out and there weren’t so many hands to keep the place up, they moved down to the valley just across the river.
So it became a tradition that every year we would make the trek up the old, washed out coal mine road to the top of the hollow to visit the old homestead and the well that my Father had dug for his Mom.  
This year was no different. The night before, a bunch of us cousins had taken the powder out of several firecrackers, (did I mention the 4th of July?), and build one huge firecracker that we planned to explode once we were up on the mountain. That way everyone in the valley would hear it.
And so it was that on the morning of the 3rd of July, 1965 we gathered the group that would make the climb. My Dad would be the adult in charge, my cousins, Danny (the local boy), Alan (living then in Central Florida), myself and my two younger brothers, Tim and Larry (from Orlando) and, I think there may have been a couple of other cousins from Kentucky with us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Peg leg, coins and taffy for the kids

Garnette Remembers Her Grandma and Grandpa French

James French (1884-1972) and Catherine “Dollie” Oiler French (1886-1965)
– or –
Peg leg, coins and taffy for the kids

His name was James but everyone knew him as "Jim". He had a peg leg because once, while trying to jump on a moving train to catch a ride to Welch, he fell and lost his leg when the train ran over it. Jumping trains was a common form of transportation in those days as most people did not have a car or a horse.
He always saved his change. His joy was, on the weekend, he would sit near the roadside in front of his home with the change in a pan. When the children would come around, he would let them pick 3 or 4 coins to keep. He would tell them to pick what they wanted or needed. They would never take the dimes but would take the pennies and nickels instead because they were bigger.  So he never ran out of change because he could cash in the dimes that the children left, for nickels and pennies for the next weekend. The children would hug him and maybe even get to touch his wooden peg leg. They were very sympathetic to him because of the tragic loss of his leg. He did this every Saturday morning that I can remember.
Grandma French would occasionally make taffy and would invite all the local kids to come and help (some of the adults wanted to help as well). They would tug and pull the taffy as it cooled from the stove and the more they worked it, the more solid it would become and when the batch was done, they could all take some home with them.
These are things that the couple did as they aged to keep in touch and to help the children in the neighborhood.  Such was their generosity and kindness.
I think this had much to do with the compassion for children that developed in me as I watched and learned this from my grandparents.

-This from a conversation with his granddaughter, Garnette French Green

*1920 Census  Jackson, Ohio shows James as Coal miner and Dollie Keeping house
** As I was growing up, my parents were always active with the youth of the church that so much a part or our lives. There was always some event or party or an outing that was coming up. Now, thinking back, I can hardly remember a time that this was not so. And now I can see where this all started with my Mom watching her grandparents helping the children in their neighborhood.