Little Red Wagon

A turning point in my life




These are articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.

It was an extraordinarily mild day for a mid-December afternoon in Lebanon, Ohio. It was 12 days before Christmas and never having been able to keep a secret, I decided to give my soon to be 2 year old daughter, Kelly Ellisse, her Christmas gift early, so that we might be able to enjoy the nice weather. I went into the garage and returned with a little red Radio Flyer wagon that I had bought just days before.

At the time I was involved in racing go-karts on the FKE circuit that toured the US, and when working on the carts in the garage, I would often come inside and get Kelly and put her in one of the carts. I had one cart that I raced on the road circuits that had a Yamaha 250cc TDY1A two cylinder motorcycle engine on it and was capable of speeds in excess of 160 MPH. It had a full body covering and an upholstered seat so that when I sat her down in that cart, she was comfortable and could not get out and onto the floor to get herself dirty while eyeing my every move. That kept me in good graces with the wife, as seemed to be the only drawback my wife Sandra had to my taking Kelly to the garage was that she would come back in the house with floor dirt on her clothing. Kelly appeared to like the seat quite well in the road course cart, as I would occasionally glance in her direction and catch her moving from side to side with a grin on her face, and would often find her chatting to the steering wheel, and I just had that feeling that my daughter liked things with wheels the same way that I did, so the little red wagon seemed to be the next logical step.

Back inside the house, Sandra watched with a fake scowl as she saw me giving Kelly her Christmas present early. I continued, putting on her small pink coat and a matching pink ‘granny’ hat, tied the laces on her shoes and picked her up and placed her in the little red wagon, and headed down the driveway for a lap or two around the neighborhood. As I reached the bottom of the driveway, it was quickly becoming apparent that it was not going to be comfortable bending over far enough to hold the short handle on this little Red Flyer, so I pulled her back up to the garage and attached a short length of clothesline rope to the end of the handle so that I could walk upright as I pulled her around the street, and it had the additional advantage of letting the wagon veer slightly from side to side as we navigated the neighborhood street.

We lived quite a distance from the city limits of Lebanon, Ohio and as far as we were out in the country, the streets lacked sidewalks so I was carefully working the edge of the road as we headed towards the cul-de-sac at the end of the road. As we traversed the road, with erratic edges and the occasional pothole, we were facing minimal oncoming traffic and I was proudly displaying my progeny to all that cared to look at the cute little girl, dressed in her finest little pink dress with matching bonnet, that was displaying an ever increasingly wide smile as she took in new scenery as she tightly gripped each side of her new little red wagon. It was late afternoon, so there were not many folks on the road or in their yards, but that did little to diminish the pride I felt as I accompanied my first born child. No one knew of the difficulty that her mother had experienced in bringing her into the world, and as we completed our short trip, and were headed up the driveway, it warmed my heart to see her mother peering out the living room window, delighted to see that she was smiling from ear to ear, as I knew all too well what she had endured in the recent months, not much of which was anything to smile about.

We had finally completed the round trip thru the neighborhood, and as we were returning to the house we were greeted with the all too familiar wafting fragrance of another well prepared home cooked meal. Reaching down, I raised my daughter to my chest and cradled her next to my heart with my left arm, and just as we reached the kitchen, we found my favorite dinner of ham, steaming mashed potatoes and gravy on the table. I sat Kelly down in her custom high chair and the three of us began to devour this lovingly common feast.

The conversation quickly turned to a discussion about what we were going to buy first for our new home. We were very excited as we had just finalized the paperwork for a 12 acre farm in nearby Hamilton, Ohio that had an old (15) room two story farm house, a small (4) room two story house about 30 yards away, and most importantly, a 900 square foot garage that I fully intended to turn into a shop for the use of my racing equipment and the preparation of my racing carts. I had also begun building a custom mid-engined car with a steel tube frame and a fiberglass body that was powered by a small block Chevy motor, positioned behind the driver. It was far enough along that it was on wheels, but the current garage still did not have enough room to get much work done without scratching the paint or hitting your elbow on something, and this new location was going to provide a much needed increase in working space.

We were both excited about the impending living possibilities of our new location, even though it had some drawbacks. The old steam heating system was able to keep the house quite warm, and the temperature change created by the steam produced some interesting clank, clangs and squeaks, but there were some leaks and repairs that had to be made, and the worst part about that was the fact that the house was quite old and had no formal basement, only a very small dirt dug out area where the utilities were placed, and we had already noticed an accumulation of dead rat carcasses and assorted droppings from who knows what. None the less, we were both very excited about the upcoming move, and the ideas were flowing fast and furiously, and discussed the fact that the upcoming Saturday would be set aside for the first formal cleaning excursion.

We had just finished that good old country dinner of ham and ‘taters with gravy, when Sandy went to the refrigerator and brought out a home made cherry pie. Sandra was a very good cook, having learned a great deal at an early age from her mother, but I had not idea up to this point that I was in for a pie, let alone a cherry pie! She was eight and a half months pregnant with what we hoped would be our second child, so I escorted her to the living room and sat briefly with her on the couch, then rose and went about clearing the table and getting ready to wash the dishes. We continued talking about how nice the day had been and how impressed I was that she had baked another cherry pie.

About two years previously, while just over eight months pregnant with Kelly, we had returned from grocery shopping and she had made an excellent dinner that had also included a cherry pie. While I was putting up the groceries, we chatted about having the possibility of having our family and wanted to look for some property in the country where they could run and play. During that time she was experiencing some problems with her pregnancy, and I was keeping an eye on her for symptoms of discomfort. It was very important to me to not have her over extend herself, as she had been having a great deal of trouble during several pregnancies and had multiple issues regarding a condition known as abruptio placentae, the premature separation of the placenta from the walls of her uterus, that resulted in her discharging a huge amount of blood in a very short time always resulting in a terrible mess, an abrupt trip to the hospital, and a discouraging cleanup when I returned.

We were talking and I had turned to her, expecting to see a smile on her face, but I instantly knew what had occurred. I had seen it often before, but it never became routine. It always made me feel a terrible pain in my own heart to see my wife go thru this when it occurred, as she was very intent in having a family, and this occurrence always took its toll on her emotionally as well as physically. As I looked at her, she was standing frozen, looking at her feet, looking at the floor where her legs, shoes and both feet were covered in blood, and the look I saw on her face still haunts me to this day. I had seen it too many times before. At least one life was in danger and we both knew what to do.

This had happened seven or eight times before, and I had long ago converted our van into a semi-ambulance, complete with a palate on the floor with a pillow, and a dark brown, shallow wooden box with worn corners and edges that she used to hold her legs elevated slightly. Inside the box was a collection of towels for absorbing the blood flow and a one quart plastic milk jug that I filled with cold water just before we would leave for the hospital.

The hospital knew us by name, and after calling the emergency room to give notice of our impending arrival, I headed out of our subdivision and onto the narrow and winding highway that would take us to the Middletown, Ohio hospital. As we got closer to town, we would encounter and pass under seven traffic lights, and if I timed my driving correctly, and I could get the sequence right, I could catch them all at 58 miles per hour, with the exception of the one located at one major 4-lane cross road. Several months previous, I had been successful in getting the county to adjust the timing on that one light to make it easier for us to continue thru the entire set of traffic lights, and I will always be grateful to those folks.

The ride to the hospital seemed never ending and it was made in silence, as we maneuvered under the colored traffic lights while dancing with the bright light switch as I met oncoming traffic. We had learned long ago that while this condition only occurred in about one percent of pregnancies, it generally resulted in fetal mortality in about forty percent of the occurrences, and it was not unusual to lose the mother as well. We had experienced variations of these possibilities in earlier pregnancies, as we had experienced one early miscarriage and two mid term miscarriages, while another pregnancy nearly went full term, only to have our baby daughter stillborn, and it was decided to have a small funeral service for the little girl we had named Michelle Andrea. All our babies were girls. We made gorgeous girl babies.

However, this was seemingly going to be a very different situation than any of the others. The ride to the hospital was quiet as usual, but upon arrival I parked the van and entering the side door, I was discovered that Sandy had lost consciousness. I had pulled as close as I could to the red brick veneered emergency room entrance and a pair of ambulance attendants saw what was happening and they took over, rushing her into the emergency room amid a lot of commotion, and were able to bypass the sign in and paper procedures that used to frustrate me on our earlier visits. I tried to follow, only to be physically held back by the two attendants and asked to sit in a lone chair in the corner of the emergency waiting room.

These hospital visits were become increasingly uncomfortable and stressful, but I sensed that this was something different than before, and it was becoming very difficult to control my anxiety as I continually noticed more and more activity in and out of the room Sandy was in and glances in my direction, with the occasional nurse pointing me out to one of the male workers wearing a lab coat. Suddenly, a nurse came in rather abruptly with one of Sandy’s doctors that I recognized from some of the earlier visits and he told me to sit down. I was expecting the worse and feeling remorseful that I may have not had the chance to say goodbye, but he started by saying the good news was that he was prepping for a similar surgery of some sort with another lady, and had a good operating crew already assembled and anesthesiologist at the ready and our doctor was, of course, familiar with Sandy’s condition and needs. The bad news was that there was an issue with blood and or oxygen sharing and that I was going to have to give him instructions as to how to make a determination in the event that they both were unable to survive. He was asking me to choose, to determine which loved one was to live and which loved one was to die! I was in abject agony over the fact that I might never have a chance to say goodbye to either of them.

Wow, I thought. Twenty five minutes ago, I was eating cherry pie! Now I was being asked to play God, or at least act on his behalf. Can this actually be asked of me? I was expecting the onslaught of panic and confusion, but I was suddenly experiencing a warmth and calmness that I had not experienced previously. I had not been officially ‘saved’ at that point, but it was unmistakable what was occurring, and the timing was greatly appreciated. The doctor looked me straight in the eyes with furled brow and rigid chin, he softly and discretely said that time is of the utmost importance here and me a limit of two minutes to decide. Where would I get the strength to decide? If only one survived, what would I tell them about my decision? How would I explain it to them? I closed my eyes and leaned forward, and cupping my face in the palms of both hands, I turned inward, searching the darkness of the cavern that housed my inner thoughts, looking for a flickering light that might indicate an answer, alternately thinking of my parents, and then Sandy’s parents before I decided that I alone was going to have to decide, without the benefit of light. This was my decision alone! I do not know how long it was taking me, but I suddenly felt the doctor’s hand gently on my leg, indicating that it was time to decide. I raised my head and extended the back of the palm of my left hand in his direction. Without a word being spoken, he understood, turned and disappeared.

The doctor was gone for a long, long time. It seemed like forever! Like a small sail boat adrift at sea, with no sense of direction and no wind, my mind wandered aimlessly, able only to comprehend the unending flat line of an endless horizon. My chest was bursting from the heavy breathing; my head was hurting, aching from an overworked imagination that could draw no conclusion. I felt that I was sleeping with my eyes open; I had not left my chair in the corner for duration of the operation and I smelled like an old shop rag. I started to become more attentive and started to sit upright when I was aware that the sound of the footsteps in the hall were different than the ones that I had heard for hours because they were headed right towards me, and I instinctively knew who’s they were and I knew where he was headed. I was glad there might be a conclusion to this issue, but not sure that I wanted to know what it was. I got out of my chair and stood facing the doctor, knowing full well that my life was about to be transformed for its’ duration in the next few seconds.

The doctor looked exhausted, he was shuffling as he walked and his operating mask was down around his neck, yet he had no smile. There were several areas of his coat that were splattered with blood and but his eyes told me all I wanted to know, and as he drew close, he merely gave me a slight smile, and with his left hand held up two fingers and with his right hand gave me the thumbs up sign. He had saved them both. I was so emotional I was shaking, at which point he put his hands on my shoulder, and finally spoke, simply telling me to go home and some one will call me in the morning.

As I stepped out of the hospital and into the darkness, I remember thinking as I walked among the shadows of the parking lot night lights that I was glad this night is over. I will never have to go thru something like this again.
I was wrong.

In the morning, I called the hospital and they told me I could come in and visit them both. They were both in intensive care, but they both were alive! I gave thanks the best I could, and after twice daily visits for about a week, I brought them both home, and life was good once again.

This time when I turned towards her, I saw that smile that I was expecting and more, as she was laughing at all the cherry pie that Kelly had managed to get all over her face and clothes. All was right with the world. Sandy took Kelly went into the living room and placed her down on the floor, on top of a fluffy, lavender flowered comforter that we had place in front of the fireplace in the living room. I continued to put up the dishes and clean the kitchen and I was able to keep an eye on them both thru the open, elevated fireplace that separated the living room from the dining room, They laughed and played with each other, and as soon as I finished my work in the kitchen, I joined them at the edge of the fireplace, adding a few logs, stoked a few ashes and fell to the floor between them, as Sandy had rolled back providing a place for me between them. I quickly scooped up my daughter and pulled her close to me as Sandy snuggled up to me from behind. We laughed and played for over an hour like that, each of us enjoying what I came to learn was the essence of love, forming an eternal bond between mortals, and leaving a deeply etched memory inside each of us. It was getting near to the little girls bedtime, so I tucked Kelly into her bed and returned to Sandy at fire’s side, where we talked and chatted about how happy we were, and how we were going to finish the last of the moving and cleaning chores at our new home in the morning. We had already moved all the large items, both in the house and in the garage, leaving only a few clothes and assorted small items. It would be Saturday and she would take Kelly and go to the new home Hamilton and get started with some light cleaning and I would begin to unpack when I arrived after lunch as I had to work alternate Saturday mornings at the office, and tomorrow was my turn.

I kissed Sandy as I left for work, and bent down to take Kelly in my arms for a moment before heading out the door, expecting it to be another uneventful and boring Saturday morning in the steel fabricating business. As I drove, I was dreaming of the way I could lay out the tools in my shop, and where we could put the garden and sandbox for our outside endeavors, as I passed thru all but the last stop light that had become so familiar to me.

Upon arriving at work, I began to schedule the days work sequence that started with a tour of the shop to inspect the projects that were underway and record their progress and determine what would be required in the weeks ahead to complete them in a timely manner. On Saturdays, we were not required to wear a tie, and I loved to be in the shop instead of my office, so I was actually not too unhappy to be there. It was near mid morning and as I was walking back towards the office, my name came over the intercom asking me to come to the front desk as I had a visitor.

I was puzzled to see an Ohio State Highway Patrolman. He was not smiling and the look on his face indicated that this was not a social call, and as I approached, he asked me to step outside. This was even more perplexing as I was expecting a parking ticket issue regarding my wife or an expired tag or something of that nature, but I could tell from his pained expression that it more serious than that, and as his voice continued, my world came to a sudden halt. He said he was sorry to be the one that had to tell me this, but there had been an auto accident and asked if I owned a blue and white Rambler, and I replied that I did, to which he responded that he had been advised that he needed to take me to the Kettering Memorial Hospital in Dayton, Ohio as soon as possible.

This was another silent ride, but this time I was not doing the driving. He said he was not at liberty to describe the situation and that the details would be provided to me upon arrival at the hospital, and it was one fucking, piss-poor hellava drive, I can tell you that! My brain was becoming unable to decipher all the possibilities of what I might expect to hear when I got there. Obviously it was going to be something serious, as he did not want me to be driving, and I came to learn that they did not want me to be listening to any news reports on the radio, so he had given his post commander some sort of a Highway Patrol ‘code’ word and then turned his radio volume way down low and began driving very rapidly as we headed toward Dayton.

As I learned when I got to the hospital, there had been a horrible accident, and that my wife had died on the way to the hospital and that they were unable to sustain the life of our baby that she was carrying. I never saw either of them again. I was told that our daughter Kelly had sustained life threatening injuries, and I asked to see her immediately. The way the nurse looked at the doctor sent chills thru my body, and it seemed hard to make my feet move even though I was asked only to follow him. We went thru a door marked intensive care and went straight to the rear of that room and into a smaller room. It smelled very badly in there, an odor so strange that I have not encountered it since then, and as I looked around, there was only one bed and it appeared to have a pile of laundry on it, and the doctor nodded his head indicating that I should go over there. It was my daughter Kelly.

Her head appeared to be very swollen, completely bandaged with the exception of one eye, and it was closed. Thank God! I was terrified that she would look at me and ask me to make her feel better. It was the most helplessness I have ever experienced. Both her arms were extended, bandaged and covered, and there was a blood spotted blanket spread over her chest, but I could tell that it must have covered some pretty traumatic injuries because the blanket was not laying flat and had a series of wires extended out from around the edges and led to a number of oscilloscopes and linear graph-like machines that seemed to be quietly exchanging information so as to not disturb her. The doctor slowly moved over to where I was standing and began to explain the bulky looking area below her waist. He said they were unable, at this point, to ascertain where all her hip and leg bones were from the waist down as she had been very badly disfigured in that area and that they had literally tied a small black garbage bag around her waist to gather her ‘parts’ in until it could be determined how or when reconstruction could or would begin. I had to turn away.

Three hours ago, I had been laughing and holding each of them in my arms, and now this! Again? It was getting hard to breathe, and for the first time I was feeling a little bit out of control as to how I should be handling this situation, and what the next step should be. I quietly walked to the phone in the waiting room and called my parents and told them what had happened, but it was a long series of terrible moments before I could muster the courage to call her parents in Richmond, Kentucky. What would I say? How would I begin to explain to them what had happened to their daughter and their grand daughter? I thought….. could I get someone else to do it? Couldn’t I just walk backwards long enough for all of this to start over and end in a different manner?

Suddenly, I again realized that it had to be me. It was my job as husband and father. I didn’t want anyone else involved. This was my family, so it was my responsibility. I, very slowly, and with great trepidation, got up from the couch and approached the phone on the wall, while all the while trying to formulate the way I was going to broach the subject and continue the conversation to tell them the bad news.

They arrived that afternoon. We jointly made the arrangements as to internment procedure and location; all of us agreeing that Sandy and the baby she had been carrying would be buried in the same coffin in the same cemetery, and next to little Michelle Andrea, our daughter that came very close to surviving. Sandy and our little girl she was carrying were buried in the same coffin, and laid to rest right next to Michelle. The little one was unnamed as I thought it inappropriate to name her without consulting with my wife, and agreeing on a name that suited the both of us. On several occasions I have regretted not naming her, but still could not pick a name by myself for some reason. I’m sure she has a name somewhere. Sandy’s injuries were so disfiguring that she was placed in a closed casket. I would have liked to have been able to say goodbye. We buried Sandy and little girl as planned, and while family members went home, I returned to Kettering Memorial.

Returning to the hospital, I had to face another difficult decision, what would be the future for Kelly, what would serve her best interests? Both of Sandy’s parents, as well as my own folks expressed their desire to allow me to make the decision without question or interference, and thankfully offered no suggestions as to any direction for me to consider. After long, very long conversations with several of the doctors and Clergy, and after much introspection and my interpretation of prayer, (I was naively expecting a written sign of some sort, or something loud and easy to interpret) I decide to discontinue the assorted forms of life support. She was declared brain dead, her lower extremities and organs from the waist down were seemingly not repairable, and her chest cavity had been crushed. After the excruciating rounds of paperwork, it was unbearable to utter the words that directed the doctor’s next move, and the doctors and nurses faces reflected my emotions as they silently turned to begin the procedures required to comply with my decision. I had expressed a desire to donate any of Kelly’s organs, but the attending doctor just shook his head and said there did not appear to be any that were suitable.

Since that day, no decisions have been difficult!

Three days later a small group of family members met at the same cemetery and Kelly was laid to rest next to her mother and two sisters. About 16 or 17 years later, I stopped on the way to a race in Michigan, but was unable to locate their graves, and I have never been back.

Leaving the services that Thursday afternoon, I traveled to what would have been our new home and for some reason parked next to the garage, rather than the house, and went inside. Scanning the array of tools and equipment that had been recently moved into position, I noticed the little red wagon sitting atop a box of car parts, but could not bring myself to touch it. I just leaned up against the side of the car, staring at the wagon, contemplating the wisdom, or the lack of my decision and growing extremely exhausted. Looking for a place to rest, I opened the passenger door of the car that I had been building, and settled into the hard, un-upholstered seat, still being able to gaze at the wagon from inside the car.

I fell asleep quite quickly, and I remember having horrendous nightmares of the horrible hospital and cemetery encounters playing over and over in my head but they gradually gave way to more comforting feelings that seemed to be centered on spending the different seasons of the year, walking around the fertile fields of my mother’s family farm, traipsing thru the wheat fields while pulling the kernels from the stalk, taking them in your mouth and chewing them like gum. The small crowd of us walked thru the tallest of the corn stalks, perfectly aligned, letting the tassels whisk thru our hair, we pulled peanuts from the ground and ate them raw. We had a snowball fight and took turns hiding behind a tilting snowman with an old straw hat like my grandfather used to wear. We jumped over the straight lines of furrows done with a sharp four bottom plow, kicking up dirt balls. We walked for a long time in the open fields, standing face to face with Holstein cattle, Yorkshire hogs and chasing Rhode Island Red chickens so we could gather their eggs. As the weather warmed we picked black berries and blue berries and a few stalks of rhubarb, and as the walking became slower and slower, we eventually came to a halt where a small stream ran into a small pond, and the six of us just stood looking at each other, speaking gently without sound. The gentleman that had been our guide indicated that it was time for them to go, and without another word, they turned and walked away. As the five of them grew smaller in the distance, I looked down and saw that there was only one set of large footprints and two sets of small footprints.

It was at that point that I awoke feeling hungrier that I had been for quite awhile, and as I was raising myself from the very low seating position, I heard a very soft, but familiar voice telling me “take comfort, you will see us all again”. I finally exited the car, went outside and got into our pickup. I drove into my new home town looking for a restaurant so that I might get a good home cooked meal. Not being familiar with the area made it unusually hard to decide where to stop and find a good meal, but I finally found one, with a freshly painted exterior, but exterior indications of a recent fire. It looked like it was an old and well attended establishment and so I pulled in and parked the pickup near the entrance. As soon as I walked in thru the set of double doors, I spotted a lone seat at the end of the counter and plunked my carcass down with a thud and raised both feet to the counter bottom rest. The waitress quickly approached and spoke, asking what I wanted to drink and asked for my order. After telling her that I was really hungry for a home cooked meal, she replied that I had indeed come to the right place as they served the best spaghetti on that side of Hamilton, Ohio, and it’s our Monday night special, and your right on time.

Monday? Are you sure! I left her standing there, pen and pad in hand, and scurried back out thru those double doors looking for the newspaper stand, and sure enough, there was only one paper left in the front news stand and it was indeed a Monday paper. I had been asleep three days.

And so it began, the rest of my life.