When I was a sophomore in high school, I went with the band director’s son and wife to a weekend band clinic a couple of hours away from my South Carolina home. This was the 1950s, when bench seats in cars were common, so we all rode in the front seat. On the way home, Mrs. Mills suggested we stop in a town forty minutes from home to attend church—not an unexpected suggestion in that Bible Belt place and time.
Back at the car after church, she asked if I wanted to ride in the middle the rest of the way home. That was the last thing I remembered until I abruptly became aware that I was in a hospital treatment room, half an hour from our town, talking with a doctor and my parents. I learned that a driver had ignored a yield sign and plowed into us. Mrs. Mills had gone through the windshield, and the glass had ripped most of the flesh off her face. Her son had a broken shoulder and a concussion. I had some broken bones but only a gouge in my nose. The ambulance crew had found me walking on a broken foot, in a stupor, in a field next to the road.
I never remembered the accident, but I did remember that I’d been eager to get home and hadn’t wanted to stop for church. Yet had we not stopped, I would have had a grievously scarred face at age fifteen. Mrs. Mills had been beautiful.
I never remembered the accident, but afterward I tried never to pass a car on a two-lane road if another car was in sight. Occasionally, if doing so was necessary, a thrill of fear would run through my body until I was safely back in my lane. It was a fear that lasted throughout my driving days.
Lake Worth, Florida