I was born in 1928 and was the youngest of five children. I had two older sisters, Kay and Dorothy, and two older brothers, Tupper and Keene, in that order. Kay was 10 years older than me. In 1932 I was the only one in my family not old enough to be in school. Four families in the block had a car-pool system and it was the next-door-neighbor’s week to drive the neighborhood kids to and from Stevens Elementary School, morning, noon, and late afternoon. He had a big black four-door Studebaker that he parked on the left side of his two-car garage. Back in those days, a two-car garage had a four-by-four center post. The wooden doors on each side slid sideways on their own overhead track. Only one side of the garage could be open at a time.
In early May, one month before my fourth birthday, my right arm was severely injured. The fateful day was May 9th and it was noontime. My parents were in Colorado Springs attending a business convention. My brothers and sister Dorothy were due to be picked up at school. I was across the alley in the Perkins’ back yard (without permission), playing on a tree swing. Agnes, our maid, was the only one around, and she was in our house.
When I heard the neighbor start his car I decided I wanted to ride to school with him to pick up the car-pool kids, but he didn’t know it. I got off of the swing, ran across the alley through his backyard and into his garage. I jumped on the passenger-side running board as he was backing out. The car was already about a third of the way out of the garage and the neighbor was looking to his left.
Unfortunately, the left-side garage door had not been completely opened. It lacked about sixteen inches of being flush with the four-by-four center post. There was enough room for him to back out straight but there was not much clearance on the right side of the vehicle. While the car was backing, at the very moment I opened the front passenger door with my right hand, the car door hit the protruding garage door with my arm wedged in between. I screamed. “Crack,” the garage door broke off and my arm immediately became a giant blood blister. He stopped the car and I was taken to Children’s Hospital. My parents were summoned home. To make a long story short, according to the doctors, I was lucky they were able to save any of my right arm from the shoulder down. Gangrene set in. My thumb and forefinger were amputated. My right hand looked more like a claw than a hand. I was left with a withered arm and three dwarfed, semi-stiff fingers. My elbow was frozen at a right angle, and I had thirty-degree flex action in my elbow and zero wrist action.
Needless to say, the hospital and doctor bills were staggering. My folks didn’t have any Blue Cross-type insurance plan. They tightened their belts and dug in. Agnes, the maid, had to be let go. I don’t know how they did it, but I do know the impressions I carried with me into my teenage years had nothing to do with money or the hardships my accident had caused them. Instead, what I gained from my upbringing was the desire to pull my own weight and the self-confidence that I could. I became determined to do as well as anyone with two arms. I actually resented someone offering me help or assistance when I sensed it was done out of pity. I needed to figure out my own way to do something in order to keep up with the others, but with time to think and experiment, I learned how to compete equally.
A heartbreaking tragedy with the “reward” of being “handicapped” for the rest of my life, you say? No, not really. As stated in the Prelude, it depends on which side of a statement you are on. That so called “handicap” became a driving force within me that would change how I would live my life and consequently affect the lives of many others.
“Everyone has a handicap of some sort, some you can see and some
G. Nash Smith