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The Closet: A Daughter's Remembrance
written by: Steven L. Richie
A week before Dad’s car accident of July 31, 1988, I was having bad dreams about him. Not different dreams, it was always the same dream but night after night. The nightmares really wouldn’t stop...they scared me.
It proved to be a premonition but I didn’t know what was going on. When I think back to that day, I think God was preparing me for what was about to happen. I realize that some do not believe in ESP, and I don’t think I do. But were those dreams just a coincidence?
We were a family of four, and happy. I was twelve and my sister, Angela, was thirteen. Dad worked all the time, but a couple of years before the wreck Mom talked him into taking a vacation. We drove in Grandpa’s fancy van to the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas and spent a day at “Dogpatch U.S.A.” an amusement park near Harrison, Arkansas. We spent that night at a motel with a swimming pool.
After dinner at, and I haven’t forgotten the name of the restaurant because it’s the same as the rice Dad buys — Jasmine. It wasn’t Chinese or Korean, hmm, oh that’s right it was a Thai restaurant and was it ever good! We headed back to the motel after dinner and Angie and I ran inside to get into our bathing suits. Well I don’t need to tell you that my sister and I were as tired as Dad, I think.
Dad drove non-stop from our place in rural New Richmond, Wisconsin about eight hundred miles, he said. He was sleeping when Mom, Angie and I came in from the pool. I think we all fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. The next day, Angie and I didn’t get up until about ten but Mom and Dad were already up of course and had the suitcases loaded in the van. We each showered and Dad seated himself outside to have a smoke while waiting for us. Finally, we finished getting ready and went out to where Dad was looking at the van. It was already hot out so Dad turned the air conditioning on in the van and we were off to get breakfast. Once at the restaurant, I got pancakes of course as did Angie, Mom just had biscuits and gravy and Dad had sausage and eggs and of course coffee.
After that, we drove some more, but not too far as we pulled into the huge parking lot of Dogpatch. You should have seen it — from the parking lot we could see a great big building with a roof that was sunk in the center and there was even a jackass on it…not for real of course.
The buildings were constructed to have a dilapidated look. After all, it was a comic strip brought to life Dad said, though I could never remember reading it and Dad said they quit publishing it in 1977. I was only born two years earlier in 1975.
Apparently this guy, L’l Abner was always chasing Daisy Mae. She was his blonde sweetheart and his grandma who was smoking a corncob pipe that always hung out of her mouth. They were hillbillies and I guess that hillbillies are backward people who rarely if ever got out of the mountains of the Ozarks. Dad said the rest of the characters from the Li’l Abner comic strip were all there as well. I mainly remember a lot of people chasing somebody else and “Fearless Fosdick'' (the cop) arresting them and there were many animals, goats, chickens, ducks, geese…It was like we were right in the comic strip Dad said. After spending a relaxing day there, well Dad was always in a hurry...
We drove from there to visit my Great Grandma and Grandpa who lived further south in Perryville, Arkansas. Dad showed us their little town. He noted how the people had a more laid back attitude about life. He made it clear to us that there was more than one way to live.
On our return trip, we drove to Eureka Springs. We spent the night in that old Victorian-looking town. Dad was impressed, “Look at that!” Dad called it — gingerbread on those homes. To me, it was just another pretty painted house with fancy wood spindles and curly-cues up at the peaks and at the corners of the homes. Though I didn’t care about that, the homes were beautifully painted.
But you know it really didn’t matter what we did because I recall pulling weeds in the garden; come to think of it that was not fun, so maybe not that. Though, when Mom and Dad were down there with us even that was enjoyable…what a love they had! They were always joking and fooling around; kissing and hugging constantly, swatting each other on the butt, they were so funny.
Then, one night as I lay on the carpeted floor holding my head up with my hands watching television, I began crying. Dad who was sitting on the couch in his white work clothes asked, “What’s the matter, Anna?” I sobbed harder, “Come ‘ere Anna; sit on my lap and tell me what’s wrong; we’ll see if we can’t fix it!”
But I wasn’t able to talk because I couldn’t stop crying. Dad rubbed my back and head and that soothed me. I finally caught my breath as I gasped between spurts of sobbing and then I told him “I’ve been having some really bad dreams about you, scary dreams.”
“Oh yeah?” I thought he’d laugh at me but he didn’t. Instead, he asked, “What were the dreams about Anna,” and I let out a sigh of relief, “Whew,” I could breathe again. But I was afraid, afraid to tell him because maybe the dreams would come true then. That dream that kept repeating itself was so terrible! I bowed my head lower and cried even harder…”I can’t tell Dad.”
“Well don’t worry they were only dreams,” he said, “Nothing’s going to happen to me. I promise, okay? Now off to bed and rest easy; I love you Anna.” We hugged and I told Dad that I loved him too; he kissed my forehead and I quietly went off to bed.
Exhausted from the gut-wrenching sobs I fell asleep almost immediately. That same dream came again but this time was really clear: I got off the school bus and the garage door was left open. I could see Dad’s truck in there and I wondered what he was doing home? I continued walking up the long, brown-gravel drive to the house. I stepped inside and called out for Dad a few times. There was no answer and that was strange too.
Oh well, I turned and was about to hang my coat up in our entry closet. When the closet door opened the dream was no more. It became real! It was real! I know it was. I saw my Dad hanging there.
Looking back to that day years ago I guess you could say, in a way, that he had hung himself. Always driving fast as he did even after so many told him to slow it down. Dad got a thrill out of going fast and I don’t think he could drive any other way.
Sirens were blaring in the distance but I thought those sounds were coming from the nearby racetrack, Cedar Lake Speedway. Sirens were heard on many a Saturday night and were familiar. Then my friend, Gary Peterson, rode up the driveway on his bike with a flat tire. Angela and I were in the front yard and it was about eight in the evening but still, light out as we were on daylight savings time. Gary’s face was sad and heavy-looking. He jumped off his bike, let it roll, and ran to us.
He started talking from a distance…“I think you two better sit down a minute.”
“Why,” Angie asked? But I already knew that something happened to my dad.
“Your dad’s been in a bad accident. He went off the road and flew out of the car! He hit his head and he’s hurt real bad. The ambulance is up there right now by Goose Lake Road and Double C.”
My mind had a weird, noisy but blank feeling. Gary kept talking, but I was no longer hearing. Those first words out of his mouth were all I could hear over and over: “Bad accident, a bad accident. Hit his head, hit his head.” How bad?
Angela burst into tears – I began running. I had to get to Dad. Angela ran with me. We had to find our dad. Gary was behind us, not able to keep up though he tried. We got to Dad’s car and many people were standing around whispering and pointing, but Dad was gone. He’d already been taken to the hospital, the one in New Richmond, the people said.
Our neighbor Pam grabbed onto us and said, “Oh you poor little girls! Let me take you to the hospital!”
By the time we got there, Dad was gone again. He had already been taken by helicopter to another hospital, a bigger one, way off in Minneapolis somewhere… Pam took us home.
We got home and Mom was there.
She grabbed onto us both. Mom hugged us with all her might…then she hollered, “Where have you two been? Your father’s been in a bad accident! I want you to get your things now! I’m taking you to Grandma’s for the night.”
I was afraid so I hurried as fast as I could. Mom took me and Angie to Grandma’s in St. Paul. Grandma and Aunt Peggy must have watched for us because Aunt Peggy came flying out of their house to meet us. Mom helped to get us inside and then left immediately. She drove to see Dad at the other hospital.
They had Angie lie on the couch because she was screaming and crying. To this day that scene is crystal clear. Angie was hysterical. “Can you help me get Angie calmed down,” Grandma asked Aunt Peggy. “And poor little Anna. She must be in shock,” Grandma said.
She probably thought I was because I was just watching the T.V. screen, not really knowing what was on and not caring, I probably had a blank look on my face. Though not feeling the dream could be told to anybody. It sort of prepared me? Well, I don’t know? I had already gone through my deep grieving many of the previous nights. Still, I think they all felt the sorriest for me.
Now my Dad leads a more careful life. Every time he goes for a ride in his car his seat-belt is on, and when I’m with him, he makes me wear one too.
Since his life-changing accident, I am aware of the difference they make. Mike, Dad’s friend who was in the passenger seat had his seatbelt fastened and went to work the next day with only a black eye. Years later and my dad still can’t work, well, at least not physical work.
Dad’s always been a hard worker, but now, he also has patience. Dad can and does sit at the computer for hours writing his story. I’m so proud of him; when he first told me that he was going to write a book about what happened I said, “Sure Dad” but he did it – he stuck with it! Many people say they’re going to write a book but my dad did! I tell him how proud I am of him, but it seems that he cannot accept praise, no matter how small.
Dad has come a long way since that summer day of 107 degrees on July 31, 1988. He and I have grown closer since the accident; we now can have meaningful conversations, but prior to the wreck I was afraid to even ask him a question. I am not saying Dad was abusive in any way, no – far from that! I just didn’t feel as close to him as I did to my mother. My sister Angela had a better relationship with Dad than I did. Maybe the reason I had a fear of him was that he was the disciplinarian.
There’s something about his life now that’s almost amazing…He’s lost family, friends, possessions, and even some physical abilities. Some, I remember, had called him Job. Most would have given up but not my dad!
God made a promise to those of us who love Him...To never leave or forsake us. That was proven with my dad. It’s a miracle he is with us today.
I never would have thought that we’d be sitting here together writing a story, Dad’s story…he's incredible!
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
A day of reckoning, at least through the eyes of my daughter.