Friday, September 19, 2008

The Day the Dogs Barked

Unexplained events happen all of the time. Some say they are merely coincidental, while others attribute them to a higher power. I’ll leave this one up to you.

My grandfather, Jim Rench, died unexpectedly on a hot August day in 1955, nine days past his 78th birthday. Soon thereafter, my grandmother, Alice Rench, began to experience health problems of her own, so a few months later she reluctantly moved from her home to live with my parents and me in our tiny, two-bedroom house.

Like nearly everyone in Elnora, she used Dr. James R. Rohrer as her family doctor. I guess today he would be referred to as her ‘primary care physician.’ However, she occasionally saw a specialist in Indianapolis. In early May, 1957, after school in Elnora had been dismissed for the summer, my mother drove my grandmother and me to Indianapolis for an appointment with my grandmother’s ‘other’ doctor. They had decided in advance that it would also be a mini-vacation for the two of us. My grandmother and I planned on staying for two weeks. Her son, Bill Rench, lived in Indianapolis and her oldest daughter, Audrey Rench Wilkin, resided in McCordsville, a northeastern suburb of Indianapolis.

My mom left my grandmother and me at Uncle Bill’s house and returned home to Elnora. After my grandmother saw her doctor a few days later, Uncle Bill and Aunt Kathryn drove us to McCordsville to spend the rest of our vacation with Aunt Audrey and Uncle ‘Kewp’ who owned a restaurant and service station located on State Road 67, also known as Pendleton Pike. Their house was a few hundred yards north of their business on the opposite side of that very busy highway. Each afternoon, I would routinely walk from Aunt Audrey’s home to the little general store on the highway which also housed the Post Office to check the mail and purchase a snack before heading back.

On May 9, 1957, I made my usual late-afternoon trek to the Post Office. Since there was no mail that day, when I returned to the house I sat down in a chair in the front yard to enjoy my goodies rather than going inside. My aunt and uncle raised dachshund puppies and kept the young ones and their mothers on the screened-in porch at the rear of the house. I had been seated just a few minutes when the dogs started barking loudly and my grandmother and aunt (who was on her afternoon break from the restaurant) both ran out to the front porch. My aunt yelled, “James Emerson, are you all right? Where is the crash?” When I asked her what she was talking about, she said she and my grandmother both heard a violent crash on the highway, and that was also when the dogs started barking. Aunt Audrey went so far as to walk over to the edge of Highway 67 and look up and down the road to satisfy herself that there was no wreck before she and my grandmother went back into the house. It was just after 4:00 p.m.

Later that evening, my father called to tell us that my mother had been critically injured in an accident with a drunk driver on her way home from work at the General Electric plant in Linton. The two women with her had both been killed. She was in the back seat, a factor which may have saved her life. She normally arrived home from work about 4:20 p.m. each afternoon.

The next day, the following article appeared in the local Washington, IN newspaper:

Two Elnora Mothers Killed in Truck-Car Crash Thursday

“Two Elnora mothers were killed instantly late yesterday afternoon when the car in which they were riding smashed head-on into a truck one and one-fourth miles north of Newberry in southern Greene County on highway 57. Another Elnora woman, a passenger in the car, and the truck driver were injured.

Mrs. Odyne McCullough, 44 years old, driver of the car, and Mrs. Esther Shaffer, 45 years old, were killed when the 1956 Chevrolet in which they were riding collided with a 1951 GMC one-ton truck just north of Newberry at 4:10 p.m. yesterday. Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, 45, also of Elnora, a third passenger in the car, was injured in the collision and taken to the Freeman-Greene County Hospital at Linton. Also injured in the collision was the driver of the truck, Eugene H. Powell, age 50, R.R. 1, Poseyville. He was listed in fair condition at the hospital.

State Trooper J. O. Smith said the two vehicles collided during a light rain when the truck veered across the center line into the path of the car.

The three women were en route home from work at the General Electric Company Plant at Linton when the accident occurred. The Chevrolet was going south on the highway and the truck was going north. The truck veered across the center line and the car struck the bed of the truck in front of the rear wheels. The impact of the collision was so great that rescuers had to pry open the doors of the car to get the women out. Both vehicles were considered to be a total loss after the fatal accident.

Mrs. Johnson was rushed to the hospital by ambulance suffering from a fractured right leg and a fractured left elbow. She also had severe lacerations and was suffering from shock.”

Because my mother spent the next several weeks in the hospital and was unable to take care of me when she first came home while she was still recovering from her injuries, I stayed in McCordsville with my grandmother. She became progressively more ill and passed away on July 24, never to see her hometown of Elnora or her daughter, Elizabeth, again. My mother was still walking with her leg in a plaster cast during my grandmother’s funeral.

I later found out that my mother nearly died that first night in the hospital, her heartbeat declining to only six beats per minute. She remarked that she must have been saved because her son still needed his mother and the other two women’s children were already grown. In any case, I’m thankful that she survived. However, she carried adverse physical problems related to that tragic accident for the next seventeen years until her death in 1974.

Was it really just a remarkable coincidence that the dogs barked and my aunt and grandmother ran outside at the same time my mother and her two friends were involved in that terrible accident? Or did they really somehow hear the crash over a hundred miles away? Only God knows for sure.

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