I sat in a seat behind him on the van and looked at the back of his capped head. I thought of another time I’d ridden in the seat behind my dad—back in 1952, I think, give or take a year.
I was little—maybe around four years old—and we had been driving home after dark from Fergus Falls one summer night. My mom thought she remembered we had been to see fireworks. My mom remembers she was in the back seat with a pile of five half-sleeping kids, and my dad was in the front seat driving our 1951 Ford sedan.
Our 1951 Ford
My dad put on the blinker and slowed down to make a left turn off Highway 59 onto the gravel road that led around the slough and home. A car that had been following close behind suddenly decided to pass us, just as my dad started his left-hand turn. Luckily, both cars had slowed way down. All I remember of the crash was that my dad’s head snapped backwards and his hat flew into the back seat.
My dad remembers that he got out of the car right away, and once he saw that his family was unhurt, walked back to the other car. As he approached the driver’s window, the driver was popping his glass eye back into its socket. My dad didn’t know if the glass eye had popped out on impact, or if the driver hadn’t been wearing it to begin with (not that the glass eye would have helped avoid the accident).
As soon as he started talking to the other driver, my dad could tell the man was drunk. We had been creamed by a one-eyed, drunk driver. This was before cell phones, of course, so we were all alone out there in the country. Luckily both cars were still drivable (our car had a damaged fender).
The other driver drunkenly insisted that we both turn around and go back to the Court House in Fergus Falls (that’s where the sheriff’s office was) to report the accident. Evidently, in his drunken state, he believed that the accident was my dad’s fault. My dad was happy to comply, knowing that the other driver was in the wrong.
My mom said that her neck hurt for months after that. When I explained that today, that would mean whiplash, lawsuits, insurance companies, and disability claims, she just looked at me blankly. Back in 1953, it just meant your neck hurt.
Even though the accident was 56 years ago, my dad still remembers the man’s name, but I don’t think I’ll put the name in this story. The man passed away in 1968, but his elderly wife and children still live in the area. Maybe they don’t know what their one-eyed drunken father/husband did back in 1953. It’s not something the average man wants to tell his children. Or maybe even his wife. Chances are, he probably just had to sleep it off in a jail cell over night like Otis, the town drunk from The Andy Griffith Show, used to do back in the 1950s. The laws and public perception of drunk driving were completely different back then.
And that’s the way my mind wanders as I go riding with my dad these days, looking at the back of his head, driving through the countryside.