The year was 1970, the exact date I can no longer remember, but it was close to our first anniversary (September) and the weather was still good. Hubs was working at Channel 4. He worked a combination of days and nights, sometimes 8-5, other days, 4-10:30. His day shift included the noon news and making commercials. During the night shifts he directed the local news at 6 & 10. He liked doing the 2 nightly news shows but that meant us never having supper together. Since I hadn’t learned to cook yet, he wasn’t missing much.
I was pregnant (but cute pregnant). My second trimester with an undersized basketball protruding but not puffy, just a little belly. We had moved to Hinton, about 15 miles from Channel 4 and 45 miles from our hometown.
We sold John’s 1965 Impala, a cool car we hated giving up but, not-so-responsible Hubs had gotten too many speeding and reckless driving tickets and lost his license before we eloped. Sigh. No reason to make 2 car payments when we couldn’t afford one, so we kept my 1968 Mustang with its 80 dollars a month payments.
Two (and a 1/2) people, 2 jobs, one car, 1 driver. What a freaking mess. John was so close to getting his license back and I was just as close to maternity leave but those few months in between took a lot of maneuvering. (He actually drove a few times through this fiasco and we were lucky he was never caught without a license). Unless it was impossible, I drove him back and forth, sometimes dropping him off to work before 7 when I had to be in Morningside.
Hubs was working the late shift and needed to be picked up after 10:30 when Johnny Carson started. The engineer on duty would sign Channel 4 off the air with the national Anthem at midnight. I had gotten off work at 3, rushed home, changed clothes, grabbed my gift and zipped to Rock Valley for my friend’s wedding shower.
I didn’t have time to stop and see my folks or my in-laws while I was in Rock Valley but had a great time at the shower and was heading back to Sioux City, using Highways 18 and 75. The roads were 2 lane until I got past Le Mars, then 4 lane but not interstate. Not positive but I think the 4-lane was 65 mph back then. I had to slow down 45 then 35 through Merrill and Hinton. I didn’t want to be late and was making good time.
My infatuation with driving has been my steady companion since I became a teenager. The Mustang was a 3-speed on the floor and I loved driving it (although it was the biggest LEMON). The Mustang refused to start if the temperature was between 28-40 above, if the air was damp or if snow/rain was predicted within a hundred miles. The passenger seat broke every other week. Since it had more than 12,000 miles, nothing was covered under the warranty or ever recalled. But it was cute and fun to drive when it started (and my last Ford).
I was listening to the radio and getting back up to speed after going through Le Mars. Got about a half hour to get to Channel 4. These little Iowa towns are just far enough apart that once you’re up to speed, it’s time to slow down for another burg, this one was Merrill. Didn’t want to take a page from Hubs playbook on acquiring tickets (I did get one 30 years ago) so I start slowing down, finally downshifting to second. Not a lot of traffic after 10, but I’m not alone on the road either. Highway 75 always had traffic. There’s 2 lanes each way through town and I’m in the inside lane. I see the railroad tracks crossing all 4 lanes which means it’s back up to 45. I shifted back to 3rd when the car just ahead of me in the next lane slowed way down. I thought, what’s wrong with this guy?
I don’t know what made me take my foot off the accelerator, instinct I guess. I absolutely didn’t spot anything wrong or dangerous, but I hesitated, down shifted as he slowed and braked right along with him beside me, then came to a complete stop. I glanced at the guy to my right a second before a train just in front of the Mustang’s bumper roared past, rattling the car. My knees started shaking so bad I couldn’t let the clutch out or remember how to shift. The Mustang stalled and I just sat there. Frozen.
Had that car been a few feet behind me I never would have slowed down or stopped. To this day that’s as close to an accidental death as I’ve ever come. Pretty sure I would have lost my life and Shannon’s. I still think about that night during the fall of 1970. How many lives would have been changed or not occurred at all. Mom and dad would have lost their two youngest kids in accidents. My three children wouldn’t have been born. John would have been a widower at the age of 22. There but by the grace of God, go I…