How I fell in a hole and landed in the Hospital or a shortcut that cut me short!
Dear Family and Friends,
I hear you have a cold winter up in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. You may well think that it is really cold. Probably you will get a deep frost in the ground. You may even think this is a challenging cold winter. Well I remember a time when it was real cold in Bedford County. This story is from a time long gone. Some of the folks are gone that were apart of the story and some remain. The story has been told many times and from many different perspectives. This is my remembrance of the time and tale. So you may hear variations and other parts that I missed, I’m just writing what is still in my memory.
Cold winds blew down the valley between Tussey Mountain and Sandy Hoof Ridge that January in Bedford County. Sandy Hoof Ridge was high to the east and Tussey Mount was higher to the west so the sun never did tarry long in passing light in heat to the valley below. The cold was deep in the ground that year. So deep that the water pipes buried three feet down frozen. The faucets were open but not a drop of water came from the spigots. Another challenge, another chore, another thing to fix, this is what life has been like for the Ritcheys since they came to Bedford County in 1754. They, the Ritcheys, just call it challenging!
With no water to the Quonset Huts, the adults had to go down to the little frozen solid stream, Pipers Run, then walk over the crusted snow to the spring surround by two foot high poured cement walls and topped with old blackened wooden boards with the white fringe of frost and snow. This was the original source of water for the two Quonset huts. Now kicking the boards loose you could dip a bucket into the water bubbling up from the sand. There were still a few minnows and salamanders scooting about the iron pipe that lead up the hill. This was the only source of fresh water to cook with, wash with, and even flush the toilets. Washing clothes was going to be its own challenge to figure out the timing of when to add water. That cold morning after moving the boards off the top of the spring, the ice covered most of the spring water, now that was cold. Well there wasn’t much more you could do until Saturday. Perhaps it would warm up by then?
On that shivering cold Saturday, the men took to digging down to the frozen pipes in the yard next to the Quonset hut nearest town. Well a man and two boys. It wasn’t so much digging as cutting and breaking the frozen ground in chunks. A digging bar was the most successful tool for this task, the pick and the mattox helped. You could just pickup the frozen dirt out of the hole by hand. The shovel only got the little loose pieces. The whole process was long, labored and cold. In between cleaning out the hole, the boys played around, chasing and hitting each other and going in to the warmth of the coal furnace in the basement under the Quonset hut for short reprieves from the cold. You could smell the sweet burning wood and sharp gray coal smoke burning from the furnaces up and down the valley that morning. Eventually the frozen earth was removed down to the water pipe. The galvanized pipe was not only froze but cracked. Three feet down was not deep enough to protect the pipe from the frost line this year. The first week of the Pennsylvania Farm Show was always known to be the coldest and so it was this year too! This artic blast had continued through January with the JFK Northeaster.
The time had passed too quickly. The digging had taken too long. The stores all closed at noon on Saturday and would not open until Monday. Blue Laws they called it in 1960s. The dirt was left piled up in a mound in the yard and would be refroze in the frigid temperature that night. There would be no showers that night for church. The big galvanized tub was used. As little boys if you sat very still for a long time in the same place, after your bath when you stood up. . .there on your back side was a “3” on the right cheek and a “0” on your left cheek. Not quite as much fun when you are grown and ten years old and the last to get a bath.
Church meant putting on your best clothes on Sunday morning, no matter if it was cold or really cold. You had to look good if you were going out in public, even if this meant freezing to death in the process. Mom and Dad were already up and a warm oatmeal breakfast with hot chocolate was ready for consumption when the call came to get out of bed. The long winter night and being deep in valley required a light at the dinning room table that Sunday morning. Dad had already stoked up the coal furnace but the winter chill was still in the house. If you gathered your blankets around you and made a dash for the big black metal register the warm heat from the register would rise and fill your blanket with wonderful warmth of hot air. There was an art to this because the big metal register was too hot to stand on for long. Big people could straddle the register. Ten year olds had learned the art of standing on your blanket without blocking the warmth. You could just squat down with your blanket and feel real warm air flow all around your body. Big Sister and big brother had learned this too and passed that knowledge down to little brother or perhaps he learned just from watching them.
This warm rise of heat did not last long, perhaps not long enough would be more correct. A big brother, 2 years older would push you out of the way. He was always bigger and stronger. There was usually a little pushing match just to make sure he was still bigger and stronger. Nope still the same result, off the register. The big sister already had the little register by the front door. A few years ago both boys could share the big register, the heavy thick black vent of warmth, but now there was always a challenge between the brothers, the younger one always trying to prove himself.
Oh, well no big deal. Mom and Dad always made us eat breakfast at the table. The black register would have to be abandoned for breakfast anyways. However warms blankets were allowed on your shoulders. Blankets were never allowed on your lap where food could fall and soil them. The black asbestosis tile was so cold on bare feet, but so much better than the previous wood floor that had always put splinters in your toes and heals. Once in your chair you could retract you feet up while you ate. Then after eating all your breakfast, wash your face and hands from the water basin and brush your teeth. Now pour the waste water all down the sink and rinse with a little more spring water. Don’t waste the water for others had need of it too. The trip to the spring water was not that long but it was that bitter cold. Conservation of water was paramount in this frigid weather.
Dressed in your good clothes was not dressed in your warm clothes. Bundled up with a winter jacket and cold legs and feet, you could see your breath in the back seat of the car on the ride to church. Eadie was the warmest because she sat between her two brothers in the back seat. They always seem to pick and fight in the back seat so she was permanently assigned to the middle of the seat between two little brothers. Well the car never really got warm. Even in the front seat little heat was made by the time we reached the church. The trip to the other side of Sandy Hoof Ridge only took about ten minutes. That seemed like an hour as you shivered in the cold back seat. Keep your body close and tight, huddle to keep the cold out. That was all one could do on a cold Sunday morning.
At church there was a little snow in the shadows, enough for a snowball or two. Father would give his warning in a deep clear voice to stop. “Hey” was all he called out, the boys knew all too well to end the foolishness after hearing his word. Fingers were numb from the melted snow and the hands were quickly stuffed in coat pockets as they tromped into church. Once inside old Bethel Church you cold still feel a chill in the meeting room. The coal furnace was working but the cold was winning. Then as more people and warm bodies entered the sanctuary, the temperature rose just enough to melt the snow from your shoes.
Well, when Ralph Miller had us pray, we kneeled on the floor with our elbows on the wooden pew seat facing the back of the church with our heads bowed down and our knees in the melting slush from our shoes. Cold wet knees makes you talk to God from a different perspective. Now Ralph and God were good friends. He would carry on a conversation for a long time. So long at times I even heard big people groan from the discomfort of being on their knees so long. Mother eventually stopped knelling and just sat in her pew and bowed her head in future years.
Now Dan was old enough to sit in the Amen Pew in the back of the church with his friends. I had to sit with Mom and Dad. Eadie sat with them too. I don’t know why? The girls usually sat with their parents. The old men sat in the right back of the Durnkard Church and the old women sat in the left back. The young men sat in the Amen Pew in the very back of the church to greet all the worshippers – especially the young girls and then they served as ushers during the service too.
In Church, Reverend Helsel would stand in pulpit and shout at us, get red in the face, and even hit on the Bible to get his point across. After church was Sunday School at least for this quarter of the year. The Reverend Charlie Helsel would preach at Bethel first and then travel to Yellow Creek to preach again. Yellow Creek would have Sunday School first, then Church. After a quarter we would switch and have Sunday School first at Bethel and then Church. They called it a yoked ministry. Vern Ritchey would do the interlude and read a newspaper clipping from James J. Medcalf to get us all in the mood. Stella Batzel taught my Sunday School class and she was real nice but I preferred to talk to Elliot Clark or “Junior” about cowboys and westerns on TV. Mrs. Batzel would just look at me and I would apologize but soon we were talking again and another glance quieted me up for another five minutes or more. She sure did look at Elliot and I a lot in Sunday School. I think that is why she said she never would forget me.
After Sunday School, Aunt Ida (Great Aunt Ida Wright Ritchey) would open her pinch purse and give all her great nieces and nephews a nickel. Aunt Ida told us she was always right until she married a Ritchey. It took me years to understand her humor. Now I do, in more ways than one. This great gift from Aunt Ida gave way to the next important event of Sunday. On the way home, we would stop at Sally’s Store. Sally went to church with us but after church she would go to her little store in Tatesville and open it for an hour or so. Dad would buy the Pittsburgh Press to look at job opportunities in Pittsburgh, Mom liked the crossword puzzle, I loved the comics. Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, and Peanuts were my favorite. Dick Tracy had a wrist band radio that he and Diet Smith could not only talk to each other but they see each other on their wrist! Wow was that hard to believe. Snoopy was the best with his battles with the Red Barron. Dagwood and Blondie was funny too! I digress.
The best thing about going to Sally’s Store after church was the penny candy. Behind the big glass counters were all the candies of the world. There was lots of penny candy and five cents was a fortune that could get you a little brown paper bag full of candy that if one was careful and ate a piece or two a day would last until next Sunday. There was a time when you could beg or borrow from your big sister and brother but now I was old enough and had to fend for myself in making my candy last a week. A Sugar Daddy could last for a week by itself if you could peel the wrapper off carefully each time you used it. Sometimes the wrapper stuck to the candy and you just had to swallow it too! You had to be real careful though. The candy would stick to your teeth and one time the Sugar Daddy pulled out one of my teeth.
When we got back home it was time to change clothes and get ready for dinner. The aroma of a chicken roasting in the oven, corn boiling in a pot, potatoes getting mashed with butter and milk added to make the best Sunday meal, just remembering makes me all hungry again. “Wash your hands, don’t waste water, and do a good job” was the mantra. Now we all thanked the Good Lord again by saying Grace, but you had to watch and make sure that brother didn’t put salt or pepper on your food when you bowed your head and so you never really closed both of your eyes. One time when Darryl Barton was staying with us, I got sent to the kitchen to wash my hands again. Some how I had missed a few dirty spots the first time. When I returned and had passed inspection, I eagerly began eating my mashed potatoes only to taste a burning that climbed up my throat and out my nose. I rushed to the bathroom and ejected that terrible horseradish that had somehow got in my food. With my mouth at the faucet and tears in my eyes I tried to extinguish the burning. I returned angrily to the table in time to hear Dan and Darryl being reprimanded. Then I got a new plate with more good buttery mashed potatoes than before. I still don’t like spicy food. I bite the food. The food doesn’t bite me!
Mom’s food was most filling and satisfying. Dad would read the paper, while Eadie and Mom did the dishes. Dan and I would bundle up and go outside to take the dogs the scraps, feed the chickens, break the ice and give the animals more fresh water with buckets from the spring. Even in the cold the chicken manure would make your eyes water and your nose burn. Check the nests for eggs and look for any rats, weasels, or raccoons that could harm the chickens. After those chores were done it was time to look for fun. There was not enough snow for a snowball battle or sled ridding, too cold to climbing the birch trees, pushing and shoving was all right but wrestling let too much cold air under your coat. I guess it was just too cold to do much outside.
Darkness is quick on those winter eves and a retreat to the warmth of home brought the boys inside. A light dinner of warm Apple pie in a bowl with cold milk poured over the pie was just the right touch to fill the stomach. Homework was done and checked by Mom. Then you could watch TV. Sunday night was the Ed Sullivan Show, but this week was without Ed. Jackie Gleason was on and he was fat. Ed was real thin. There was no argument about what to watch. Nestled between Tussey Mountain and Sandy Hoof Ridge there was only one channel to watch in the valley, Channel 10 from Altoona or the CBS network. That was the only frequency to make it down the valley in those days. The TV was either on or off. No worry about channel selection in those days.
Aunt Virgie Barton lived up the road near the top of Black Oak Ridge. She could get Channel 10 and Channel 6 from Johnstown or the NBC network. She was the first person I knew to have a colored TV set. You could see the Peacock spread its tail feathers with distinctive colors as the announcer said “This program is brought to you in living color.” Wow, so amazing to see a TV program that wasn’t in black and white with shades of gray. That was just like a movie theater. The first TV show in color I saw was “Bonanza!” I wanted to be a cowboy like Little Joe Cartwright.
Gerald Finley, our neighbor in the Quonset Hut across the lane, had a TV that he had made color too. He bought a converter made of a plastic sheet. The upper third was blue tint, the middle was pinkish tint, and the bottom was green tint. You put that on the TV set and the landscape scenes almost looked like they were in color. The close up scenes made the actors look funny with the blue forehead, red nose, and green chin. We loved and respected Gerald and Frances, so we did not laugh in their presence, but we had a hoot when we got outside. Mom and Dad never did buy us one of those color converters.
After TV, it was into PJs and off to bed. I used to sleep in the trundle bed that was stored under the army bunk beds. Dad had put wheels on the crib frame to make the trundle bed. I had got older and bigger and my feet stuck out of the trundle bed. Eadie now slept on the coach in the living room. So I got Eadie’s top bunk and Dan always had the lower army bunk. Something about falling out of the top bunk in the Anderson Trailer and hitting his head in the middle of the night. Dan never slept in a top bunk after that.
You know it really is warmer near the ceiling when you sleep in the top bunk. The wind would blow in cracks of the window frame and you could feel that chill on your feet. In spite of that, I think it was a lot warmer sleeping near the ceiling than in the trundle bed inches off the cold floor. Near the ceiling you could also hear the rain on the metal roof, the howl of the wind, and the creaking at night at the metal expanded and contracted. Brownie, my stuffed dog toy, liked being up there too. The dogs would howl on those cold nights. Some of my friends at school said the dogs only howl when someone dies.
Monday morning was so cold too. Mom was already gone to Everett to teach English and Businesses Classes at the High School. Dad helped me get dressed in a warm flannel shirt and school pants. The dress code at school never allowed blue jeans or barn boots. I had finally inherited my cousin’s red winter jacket from Dan. It was a bright red jacket with black chevrons on the shoulder. I had watched Darryl wear it five years ago and I knew some day it would be mine.
Now every fall the families got together and traded clothes that the children had out grown. Aunt Lucille, Aunt Faye, Aunt Virgie, and sometimes Aunt Fern would join the group but living down near Washington DC, almost an eight hour trip by car limited their visits. (This was before interstate travel!) Other neighbor ladies would sometimes bring their clothes too. The train of clothes to me could be from Leon to Jimmy to Darryl to Dan and then me. Hopefully you could get some school clothes with these hand-me-downs. If the clothes were too worn, they would be play/work clothes. Darryl’s coat was still bright red after Dan out grew it. That beautiful corduroy cloth coat was mine this year. Mom had to fix the inside of the pockets because they had developed holes. I think Grandma von Wehrden passed on the saying “Patches next to patches is neighborly, Patches on patches is beggarly.” I also had a red cap with gray ear muffs that matched perfectly. I was happy to go to school dressed so warm and fine. I at last had Darryl’s coat and perhaps I had some the power that Darryl and Dan had possessed when they wore that coat.
My cowlick, which was standing up as usually, and had to try to comb it down again before putting my cap on,. Dad stood by the front door watching for the school bus. Dan and I stood on the big black register with occasional push and Eadie on the little register, trying to build up some heat reserve for the cold ride in the school bus. George Hall, the school bus driver was right on time. Dad opened the front door and we rushed across the frozen lawn and up the lane as George greeted us with an open door. The windows on the inside of the bus were fogged with moisture and frozen with frost as more students got on bus. There was talk about Jackie Gleason being the guest host on the Ed Sullivan show. Something about an ulcer, would Ed Sullivan ever come back again? Our parents liked Jackie Gleason, but Ed Sullivan was the man.
Getting off the bus at Robert P. Smith, Eadie boarded a bus to Replogel High School and Dan boarded another bus to Woodbury for the sixth grade. We were part of a new school district that was called Northern Bedford County. Five little school districts came together to make this happen. We were one of the first classes through with all twelve grades in the new school district.
I stomped my feet to get the snow off before going up the steps into the school with Diane Foor, Glenda Hall, Regina Taylor, Carol Ritchey, Craig and Dennis Browell. We walked on the old dark wooden floors past the gym with bright maple ¾ basketball court and stage and then made a left to the elementary wing. The first door on the right was Mrs. Whited’s fourth grade classroom. Mrs. Greer was across the hall with the fifth graders. She was scary. Down the hall were my teachers from previous years. Mrs. Hale from third grade on the right. Mrs. Eller from second grade on the left side. Mrs. Gates was my first grade teacher and to this day she holds a special place in my heart.
Most of my classmates had not arrived. I took off and hung my beautiful red coat on a hook in the back of the classroom and went to my seat. Mrs. Whited was firm. You had to sit in your seat. She would allow you to talk to your classmates but in a quiet voice. Michael Diehl and Dennis Brailler sometimes forgot to have a quiet voice. I used to talk to David Covert. My buddy and neighbor, David, had been taken away to Scotland School home for Veterans Children a few months ago. His mother had died and his Dad could not take care of all seven children. I liked all my classmates, but I still missed David. He would come home for the summers with his brothers and sisters. We would have many adventures together but that’s another story.
The last bus was from Hopewell. Darlene Hall, Cindy Lundquest, Louie Arc, and my old buddy, Jim Himes. Now Jim was my oldest buddy. We had met the first day of first grade, but his Dad, Pappy Himes, taught at Everett with Mom. So I had met Jim at a teacher’s school picnic before we had even started school. Jim’s Dad taught science and Jim could too. Mr. Baker the science teacher almost had to avoid Jim because he could answer every question Mr. Baker asked. Jim could even do experiments and blow up things. Jim and I would be friends for life.
When the last bus students had hung up their coats and sat down, morning exercises began. We stood and said the pledge of allegiance. We took turns reading from the Bible. We were old enough to read for ourselves and did not have to have the teacher read for us. Although some of my classmates were not comfortable reading aloud and stumbling over those big words. We would then bow our heads and pray seated at our desks. If there was a quiz or a test, we prayed extra hard.
Mrs. Whited kept a quiet classroom. She had taught us well. We knew what was expected and followed the rules. We had two recesses during the day. If we didn’t follow the rules you could end up with only one or heaven forbid none! There was also a paddle that was occasionally used. The board of education was applied to the seat of learning on more than one occasion. The rules were clear and everyone knew the consequences. Still some did push the limit. Ouch!
We were well organized. When leaving or entering the classroom during the day, we got up by rows, and always lined up behind the same person. If they were sick and absent, there was some confusion but we eventually figured it out when going and coming from lunch or recess. As children, we all at one time or another got measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, chicken pox, and even fifths disease. During the summer if a neighbor’s child or family’s members child had a disease that you hadn’t had yet. Moms would sometimes take their children to visit in the hopes that we would catch it and not miss any school. Sometimes over half the class was missing because of those five childhood sicknesses.
Well the story goes that when I had the mumps Aunt Janie and Uncle Charles stopped by the Quonset Hut to visit on their way back to Silver Springs, Maryland. Mom and Dad warned them about the mumps infestation. Aunt Janie and Uncle Charles were sure they had already had immunity from their own childhood. I was the current swollen cheeked and sore throat member of the household. In their love and caring ways, they both held me in their laps and hugged and kissed me good-bye. Sure enough four days later Uncle Charles developed the worst case of mumps, being an adult with mumps is the worst.
The class filled and we looked to see who was absent this morning. Reading, writing and arithmetic was the agenda. Reading was still a challenge for most of us. Especially when you had to stand up in class and read. Spelling tests came every week and our vocabulary was growing by leaps and bounds. We weren’t smarter than a fifth grader but that was our aim to be next year.
In third grade you stopped printing and learned to write in cursive. The beautiful handwriting, penmanship was well admired, and a good pen hand was the mark of a successful student. Although our penmanship was always in pencil lead, ink would leave a mess but some of our desks still had ink wells cut out in the top. Now instead of printed “Q’s” we made “Q’s” that looked like “2’s”. The Peterson Method of cursive writing with fluid characters refining the fine muscles to make those beautiful circles between the lines over and over again. Then practice again and again every day we seem to make circles progressing across our lined paper. The Palmer Method had been used the previous two years and it was just as tedious and might I add boring to a grade schooler. In seventh grade or junior high these exercises would end but then legibility was graded. I could use a little practice today.
Math was my favorite because I did it well. I was not afraid to go up to the board and do the multiplication and division. I had learned to recite the times table and was ready as long as you did not ask past the ten times table. Reading was all right but Dick and Jane were not that interesting any more. There just wasn’t a good tale to be read at that age in those days for a ten year old boy.
Recess was outside and we went by rows to the back of the class room to put on our heavy coats and some even had rubber boots to put over their shoes. The girls had snow pants that they just pulled up under their skits. Half the recess time was spent dressing for the cold weather and then undressing again. I had Darryl and Dan’s red coat. I was ready for the cold and I could run faster with that coat. I could swing higher. I could hold my own with the fifth graders, though we were only supposed to play with children in our grade. Recess always seemed too short, before long Mrs. Whited would ring her bell to come in.
At lunch, the line walked down the end of the hall to the great stairway. Down two flights of stairs we march to where the smells of delicious food came from. The lunch ladies smiled and gave you the food on your own tray. The first graders had their table already set with food for they were too small to handle a tray. The native brown stones mortared together and stacked over fourteen feet high provided a large cavern to eat in. The lunchroom was alive with chatter and conversations. You always sat with who ever you were lined up with but that did not matter for we were all friends in spite of the occasional hurt feelings from a hurtful word, joke, or teasing. The milk was always good and cold and we were encouraged to drink all our milk and clean up our plates. Those starving children in China would be happy to have half our food. Michael Diehl wanted to send some of our lunches to China.
The afternoon found the classroom too warm with steam radiators heating your left side and lunch making you a little less attentive. Before long the lessons were over and homework was written on the blackboard. Then those favored students would wash the blackboard clean and the erasers would be taken outside to be clapped together to dust off the excess chalk. The winter coats, boots, gloves and hat were put on and we lined up again. The call for buses was made. George Hall’s bus was called. There would be Dan and Eadie in the big Robert P. Smith gym waiting and we would all get on the bus and go home.
Chores waited to be done at home. The chickens and dogs had to be feed and watered and while there was still a little light left in the winter sky. Eadie collected the eggs and cleaned them. A snowball or two could be thrown at one another, but this was Monday night. Tonight was scout’s night. The Whisel boys, Marty, Denise, Sam, then there was Sam and Rudy Vuchinich, and cousin Darryl Barton, we all went into the big town of Everett for Scouts on Monday night. We met other boys that went to a different school and had different teachers and principals. They were just like us, only different because they were from town but on Monday nights we were all friends.
The parents car pooled us Scouts to Everett and we met in our Den Leader’s house. We had an opening ceremony and recited our Cub Scout promise and heard what the plan was for the night. Cub Scouts was fun and different and we were building pine block race cars. We had a piece of pine wood, that you widdled down any way you wanted. The more you carved away, the less weight, the less weight the slower it coasted down the track. We painted our own unique pattern. I liked red and black, just like my coat. Then with nails you put four plastic wheels on and then the racers would be ready. This was the ultimate goal to race them in heats with nine other cars down the track that they built in the Everett Armory.
My car was almost done and that’s what we did that night. We admired our cars and looked at our competition. Mine wasn’t the best looking but it was far from the worst. I had a flair for trying to make the red paint look like flames. My car number was 27. I wanted 16 but it was already taken. No amount of polite pushing could get me number 16. Well the two was an even number and seven was considered a lucky number so maybe it would be all right to be 27. Perhaps it was luckier than 16. With those plastic wheels that weren’t so well aligned I would need luck. We had to clean up our mess and place our car in our garage or shoe box. Dad had size 11 shoes – so there was plenty of room for my car. We had a closing prayer and then loaded up into the car for our ride home in the cold dark winter night.
With all the eight boys in the car it was a bit tight in the back seat and front. There were no seatbelts and usually the smaller guys sat on the bigger guys lap. From the red light in Everett it was only five miles to the Quonset hut. The bump over the railroad track near Tatesville and the white face of the sandbank gave hints of almost home. The Barrens was all woods in those days when you reached the top of the hill. Next you could see some house lights from the Hydukes, the Flukes, the Taylors, and then the Bowsers. As soon as the car stopped by the road at the top of the lane, it was a race to get out and be the first one to the back door. Now the lane was dark but as you looked down the lane in the winter dark the back porch light gave enough light to see the cement side walk from the macadam lane to the steps. Then there was a climb of thirteen steps to the porch and back door.
Now Eadie was home alone. Mom had left for town to go to a teacher’s meeting at 8:00 o‘clock and Dad was suppose to be home soon, as he was coming home from an Masonic meeting in Everett. Mom and Dad probably passed each other that night in their travels to and from Everett. Eadie was doing her school work as she sat the kitchen table and waiting for her Dad and brothers. She was in eight grade but still was a little uncomfortable by herself at home. Eadie had watched The Rifleman that night – someone had broke into Lucas McCain’s house and kidnapped his son, Mark, while he was alone. A little unsettling feeling when you are along too! It could happen.
As the boys jumped out of the car they ran across the road, each one trying to out run the rest. Being the last one out of the car was a disadvantage in this race but I knew the lane and yard. I didn’t have to see in the dark. I had gone up and down this lane all my life. By running straight to the stairs I would cut down the distance and had a distinct advantage. Pumping arms and legs I was quickly gaining my advantage. Then I hit hard. The ground was frozen hard. I must have run straight into the pile of frozen dirt from the hole. Tripping I flew across the hole. I landed face first on to frozen ground with a hollow thud. Then my body slumped back into the hole, into the ice and water. You could hear the dogs howl in that cold dark night.
The boys all grouped at the bottom of the steps and immediately knew something was wrong. Someone thought they heard a groan. They cautiously and slowly walked back in the dark. Trying to adjust their eyes to the darkness, for they knew there was a hole somewhere out there. Two words, in the darkness filled with fear, announced, “he’s here.” “He’s in the hole.” The boys gathered round the hole in the darkness and peered into a darker pit. Rudy reached down and felt and arm and pulled it up. The coat was wet and cold. The arm was limp. He left go and you could hear it splash in the ice water. “He’s dead.” Everyone ran towards the light and safety. Everyone, but Dan. On his hands and knees, he reached into the darkness of the hole and felt clothes. He grabbed and held tight and then he pulled. He dragged Wally out of the hole. Quickly he grabbed Wally’s right arm and swung it around his own neck and shoulder. Dan struggled as he stood up carrying his brother’s body. Wally was dead weight. Dan carried him into the light. There, his worst fears were realized. Looking down, he saw Wally’s face, it looked more like hamburg, than his little brother. Wally’s head hung to the side with red blood all over his forehead and face. The shadows made the oozing blood appear to be everywhere. The wet red coat made the image and imagination all the worse. Home! Get him safe to home! Up thirteen steps he struggled with a limp body. Dan was driven. He took each step without hesitation. The other boys followed a little behind. Dan reached the door and tried the knob. The door was locked. He pounded on the door with his foot. Let me in. Let my brother and me in . . . now!
Eadie heard the pounding and quite quickly she approached the door. No sooner had she entered the kitchen than Dan would wait no more. He put his shoulder to the door. This sixth grader sent the lock flying across the kitchen floor to Eadie’s feet. Eadie looked to see her two brothers entering the hall. She screamed. She screamed from fright. Her little brother was covered in blood. She stopped her forward motion. “Oh it’s just a little cut” she cried out in hopes of lessening the impact on her brothers. Then she rushed forward again. She caught hold of Wally’s free arm and slung it over her shoulder and neck. His body was wet and cold. Brother and sister carried him together. Quick to the register. The big black register. To warmth and safety. To help him. To revive him. “Please Dear God!” The prayers were said.
The other boys slowly filed into the living room. They could now see the damage that was done. The forehead was split open with a flap of skin and blood oozed down the nose and dripped off the chin to the floor. This was mixed with the water dripping from clothes. The right side of the face appeared to have been all chewed up. The right eye was closed, it looked bloody too. The left eye was half closed with his head hanging down and he just stared at the floor. He did say anything. His body still supported by Dan. He was basically just slumped over Dan’s shoulder.
There was some movement now. A little moan. He was trying to stand. Dan continued to support him. Eadie knew that they had to get him out of the cold wet clothes. Carefully Dan and Eadie took his red coat off. That made him look better without all that red. Dan took a wash cloth and put direct pressure on the forehead wound. Boy Scouts are prepared. Eadie unbuttoned the wet flannel shirt. Wally was starting to shiver and moan more. They couldn’t take the T-shirt over his head so Eadie cut it up the front. She knelt down and untied his shoes and removed them. Next were the wet pants. Eadie ran to the bedroom and grabbed Wally’s pajamas. They loosened his belt and Wally weakly protested but the exchange was made. A blanket was brought and wrapped round. Eadie took down the mirror over the sofa so Wally would not see himself in this condition.
There was less than a five minute interval between Mom leaving and Dad arriving. This was a long time when your brother is hurt and bleeding. Should they call someone? Who could help? Sally was the operator for the party phone line. 531J5 was Aunt Virgie’s number.
Suddenly, Dad came in to the room. He looked for only a second. His eyes had seen much with living on a farm and being four years in World War II. This was his little boy. He was hurt. He was hurt bad. He reached down and picked the little fella up and cradled him in his big arms as he carried him outside to a waiting car. The dogs were still howling in the darkness.
As the car quickly drove to Bedford Memorial Hospital, Dad carefully held Wally in his arms. He told his son, that he would be all right. “It was just a bump on the head.” “You will be as right as rain in just a few days.” “I knew I should have covered that hole.” “I’m sorry you got hurt.” “It is going to be all right.” “You be strong, my little fella.” “I need you to help me on the farm.” “We are going to do lots of things together.” “You just keep smiling.” “You are tough.” The words came from the darkness as the car quickly went to Everett and made a right turn at the traffic light and headed up to hospital hill. The swelling had began and only a slit of light could be seen and only from the left eye. They were almost there. Almost to the hospital and safety.
Carried carefully to the emergency room of Bedford Memorial Hospital. There was no wait. Straight to a table they laid the little fourth grader down. Dad held Wally’s hand as the doctor examined the wounds. The forehead was split open and the vein was lacerated. Dabbing the blood and dirt out of the way, the vein was sewn off. Then the “L” shaped flap of skin was stitched together, a few little gapping wounds on the check needed a stitch or two and then the right upper lip could use one too.
Looking through the slit in the swollen left eye, you could see the needle pusher come down and feel a little pressure on the face and then it would pull away and you could feel a little tug. This happened over and over. Ask him what his name is. Ask him what the date is. Ask him where he is. Over and over they asked the same question. I would give them the same answer. My head hurt, my face hurt, my chest hurt, my hands hurt, my knees hurt, I hurt.
Mom came to the hospital. Some one had found her. She came calling my name. “Wally” over and over again. Dad answered and said we were over here. He told Mom I was going to be all right. Dad’s voice was different. The deepness was there but there was a sadness that I could hear. Mom made a sound but I could not tell what. I felt her grab my other hand. She squeezed it several time and then just held on tight. Dad and Mom were looking down on me, but I could not see them. They rubbed my hands. Someone said they should go home, that I needed my rest and they could visit in the morning. Their voices were a little distant. They wished me pleasant dreams and said that they loved me, they said they would see me in the morning. They said they loved me again and then I could hear a sob. That was Mom. The crying faded away.
I just hurt. With every beat of my heart, my head throbbed. My face burned like it was on fire. My arms and hands felt like Dan had been hitting me. My legs and left knee were aching too. I think my feet felt fine. Well at least they weren’t complaining like the rest of my body. I tried to go to sleep but they kept waking me. Someone would ask who I was, what day it was, and where was I. I got tired of answering the same questions over and over again.
I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up some one was holding my hand. I tried to open my eyes. I could see some pink but my eyelids would not open. They were swollen shut. This person holding my hand was saying something about blood. Something about this would only hurt a little. My finger felt a jabbing pain. I pulled my hand away. They tried to grab my hand again. I pushed away and kicked to get away. Over the edge of the bed I fell, on to the cold floor there were metal legs. I pulled myself under the bed and would swing or kick at anything trying to grab me. I couldn’t see, but I could hear them. They did not know how to get me out from under the bed. They needed to do something quick before the parents came in. They told me it was all right. They would help me into bed. The floor was hard and cold. I didn’t want to be hurt any more, so I would stay with hard and cold. Any sound near me and I would pull away, at the ready to kick or hit.
The stand off was holding. There were other children in the ward. They were laughing. One was crying but mostly I heard laughing. I didn’t know if they thought I was funny or the people who were trying to grab me were funny. I thought I was safe where I was and that’s what mattered. I listened carefully for any movement close to me. My mind pictured snakes trying to bite me. I had to fight them off. After a long while, everything was quite.
Foot steps entered the ward, Mom said “What are you doing down there?” Come on, lets get up off of that floor.” How wonderful to hear her voice. I was saved again. I felt her hand hold my hand. “Now watch your head, Tuger”. She got me in bed and started to explain that my head was hurt and I would be in the hospital for a while. My eyes were swollen shut and I wouldn’t be able to see for a few days. She told me with a smile in her voice and holding me tight that my head was covered with a bandage and that I would be OK. Mom said she had to go to school and teach but she would be back that afternoon. Dad had to get Eadie and Dan off to school and then he would be up to visit. Pappy Ritchey was a patient in this hospital too and he would come to visit. Eadie and Dan were too young to visit but I would see them when I got home. She made me feel safe and warm. Her presence comforted me. Soon she had to leave and departed by giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I love you and be a good boy now . . . you understand, Wally?
True to her word, Dad came and he brought Pappy to see me too. They both thought I was pretty bunged up. They made a joke that I looked like an old boxer that lost the fight. They said I was strong and tough. The nights were long because it was always night. I couldn’t see anything. Not seeing is a problem. You can’t do much but lie in bed. You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it. I missed seeing!
Mom and Dad came every day and by Thursday I could see out of my left eye. The doctor couldn’t tell how badly damaged the right eye was. Nature would have to take it’s course. By Saturday, I was strong enough to leave the hospital. Eadie and Dan both hugged me and welcomed me home at the Quonset hut. It was like I was their long lost brother. They were both real nice to me, and they would get me anything I asked for. They waited on me hand and foot, but that didn’t last long. I soon became their pesky little brother again. Yet, there was always a little more concern in their eyes and the rough housing wasn’t quite as rough and they were watching a little closer after their little brother. I knew they really cared about me. They loved their little brother.
My red coat was now a play coat. Never to be worn to school again. It had been torn. Mom had repaired that. Some blood and dirt stains would not come out of the cloth. No respectable person would wear a garment in such poor condition in public. The jacket still had the power that Daryl and Dan had left in it but it took a while before the power came back to run and play as strong as before. Besides that there was a whole lot of homework to catch up on and it was still cold outside.
But I remember, Dan was my hero, he carried me home. He had saved my life. Eadie was my heroine, she cared for me. She saved my life. When I could not help myself they both had been responsible and took good care of me. Mom and Dad in the years to come spoke often of how their children, in a bad situation had done such a great job of saving the life of their little brother. How Dan had pulled me from the hole and carried me up the stairs and then broke open the door. How Eadie had cared for me and got me out of the cold clothes as I went into shock. Their children had handled a challenge, a big problem and fixed things. They had done well in bad situation. This young generation of Ritcheys had faced another challenge and after getting through that challenge, lived on to face more challenges with love and caring for each other.
Some things you just can’t ever forget. I was blessed to grow up with a big sister and big brother to look over me and after me. A Mom and Dad, Dr. Wynnedith and Lynn Ritchey, who loved and taught us well. The Good Lord had provided me with the blessings of a caring and loving family, extended family and friends. The great thing is they still care and love me. I feel the same about them.
And that’s the story of how I fell in a hole and landed in the hospital as I remember it! So watch out for those short-cuts.
Marshall Wally Ritchey also know as “Tuger”
Feature picture by Bert Kaufmann via CCL 2.0.