Back in November of 1984–right about the time deer season was getting underway–our family had been to Jackson on a Friday night. I don’t really remember why, just that we were all out together, minus my dad, who was officiating a football game somewhere in southwest Mississippi.
My sisters were 20, 19 and 18 years old. I was 14. My brother was 12. We siblings had met our parents in town and all piled into one vehicle, our Ford van that was big enough to seat 20, it seemed, to head north.
A national campaign to encourage seat belt use–and the dangers of not buckling up–had been underway for a couple of years. Any time we got in a car, we buckled up. Our parents saw to it. We didn’t move until everyone was strapped in. Not unlike any other time we were in a vehicle, we all rode in that van buckled in to our seats that dark, moonless night.
We arrived back in Hazlehurst around 8:30 p.m. that night to pick up the other vehicle parked at the post office. One of my sisters and I jumped in the other car, while everyone else rode in the van. Mom and them stopped by Jitney to pick up a few groceries, while my sister and I went on to the house. All buckled up, we were.
About half an hour after we got home, someone pulls in our drive way off Highway 28 west of town (we lived in the ranch house on Caldwell Ranch at the time.) The vehicle did not look familiar. Someone got out of the passenger side and came running into the house. It was one of my sisters. She was crying, screaming and bloody on her face.
“We just had a wreck!” she spit out. “I’m not sure what happened, but Mama is trapped!”
My other sister grabbed her and off they went in our other car. A few minutes later my brother comes walking in, scared, cold and shaking.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“I ran! I just took off running and didn’t know what to do!” he screamed.
By then I was very scared and shaken, too.
Long story short, a black cow had wandered into the roadway at the old rest area about half a mile north of our driveway just moments before they came through there in the van. Because of the near pitch darkness, because no shadows of the animal could be detected, the sister who was driving never saw the cow until just before the van struck it.
I’d like to tell you that because everyone was buckled in, all lives were saved and everyone was uninjured. But, I can’t. I would say that we were lucky, at best.
See, for some reason, they all got in the van headed home that night without buckling their seat belts. “Just a mental lapse after we’d been wearing them all night,” Mama would later say. She suffered a broken leg that needed a few surgeries before it was straightened out. To this day, she still has pain and walks with a gimp at certain times. My sisters, both of whom were in the front seats, both hit the windshield with their skulls, suffering mostly cuts and a few bruises.
My brother was sitting in the rear seat and was thrown forward over the second row seat where my mother was sitting, but was incredibly unscathed.
Daddy arrived home about midnight to my sister, who informed him what happened (remember when we had no cell phones?) He immediately went to the hospital to be with Mama.
To say that we all learned a lesson about seat belt usage is truly an understatement. Thankfully, we’ve all been in minor accidents at some point in our adult lives and, more thankfully, we always had on our seat belts.
Personally, I can not get in my truck or my wife’s car without buckling up, no matter how far we are going. And, neither will my kids and grand kids. It’s just not safe. We truly put our lives on the line each time we get inside a vehicle, no matter how strong or sturdy or how high the crash rating is for it. One wrong or careless move by the driver or by the driver of oncoming or surrounding traffic is all it takes for a tragedy.
I cringe every time I hear of someone killed or badly injured in a vehicle crash because they were not buckled in–especially if small, totally dependent children are involved, like in the wreck that happened last Friday evening in Wesson. Common sense tells us that children are not safe unless strapped in.
Please adhere strictly to seat belt usage. Buckle that small child in and secure babies in infant and toddler seats each time before embarking. Give them and yourself a chance.