Sunday, March 4, 2012

Then the Car Was Air Born

The green LTD had a valiant soul.  I know it was a machine made of metal and glass.  I got the car shortly before I graduated from MCC (Miles Community College).  My younger sister was living with me so she could attend school in town.  Mom came home on weekends.

But like many siblings, relationships were marked with arguments and quarrels.  Rita was 14 and I was 20.  I am sure I was BOSSY like only an older sister can be.  I tried hard to make her follow MY rules.  She often rebelled.  She was quick to point out that I was not her mother.

Just before graduation the discord reached a crescendo.  I had not gotten much rest.  In fact the three days before graduation were marked with about 2 hours of sleep a night.  Mom and Rita both attended my graduation.  Mom left afterwards.  She had just started a job cooking at the Medearis ranch for the summer.

After Mom left, Rita took off with some friends and hid from me.  It took me until early morning to find her.  I don't remember all the words.  I do remember yelling, "Pack your things.  I'm taking you to Mom."

After Rita packed.  She and a friend got into the car.  I drove the 50-60 miles out to the ranch.  I fought sleep most of the way.  I remember taking a short nap after we got there.  We all sat down to lunch.  That was when we met Big John and his sons.  Big John stood a little over 6'4", his voice was deep I think he was in his early 60's.  He didn't suffer fools easily.  Clyde his oldest son was in his mid to late twenties, then there was Johnny, Jeff, and Billie was 16.

My mother loved to cook and no one left that table hungry.  When she returned the next summer.  I was visiting and Johnny was moaning about gaining weight.  Mom informed him he was free to leave the table whenever he wanted.  His retort was that all of them had spent the whole winter dieting.  These were young men who worked hard physical labor all summer long.

Shortly after lunch Rita's friend and I headed back to Miles City.  Government Hill outside of Miles City has been the scene of many fatalities.  I remember most of the drive back.

I remember being at the top of Government Hill.  The next thing I remember was Leslie yelling, "Wake up Ruth!"

I remember laying on the brakes.  I glanced at the speedometer and I was doing over 90 mph. I remember thinking, OMG both windows are down.  Neither of us are wearing seat belts.   I have about a quarter of a tank of gas. Then we were air born.  Brakes aren't very good when cars fly.

The embankment we went over was probably in the neighborhood of 75 - 100 ft.   It was like a huge hand caught us in mid-air and dug us into the side of the hill half way down.  The car kind of shuddered when we came to a stop.

I remember feeling relief as I took stock of our circumstances.  The car hadn't rolled.  We didn't end up in the creek.  I tried to open my door but couldn't get out.

"What do we do?"

"Try getting out your side.  My door won't open."

Shortly I heard crunching gravel,  rocks smacking against each other and quick footsteps.  When I looked around I could see a couple of cars above us, and people trying to get to us.
Shelley was able to get out and started up the hill.

Soon my rescuers got me out and I walked to the top of the hill.  Not only were there two cars but going the other direction was a flat bed semi.

Someone asked Shelley which vehicle she was with.  "The one down there."

I heard a gasp.  Then someone else said, "That much shift in weight should have sent you kids rolling.  Where's the other person?"

"It was just the two of us in the car."


The trucker said he had a CB radio in his truck and would call the highway patrol for us and a tow truck.  He did.

One man I'd never seen before said he would stay.  He looked old.  I guess in his 50's. Gray hair.  Thin not much taller than me, maybe 5' 6".  He was wearing a cotton short sleeved shirt and dress pants.  He wore glasses and his face was tanned.  But his hands were soft - not a rancher.

As the others left,  he looked at me closely.  His questions rattled me.

"Did you just graduate?"


"Did you just come from Dead Man's Road?"


"Did you just get your car?"


"Did your mother, just start a cooking job at Medearis'?"

"Yes. How do you know this?"

" I had lunch with John a few days ago.  Your mother had just started cooking there.  I remember she had a green Ford almost like yours."


"I can take you both to town."

"No the police will be here soon."

"Well I could take you."

"No.  I'm not leaving Shelley."

"I could take her."

"No the police will be here soon."  I remember noticing how pale he looked.

"You had a guardian angel riding with you today."

"I know."

"No I mean a real one.  I saw someone standing outside your car before we got to it.  Then he was gone."


His voice rose and the last word squeaked, "No I mean really."

About that time the police officer arrived.  I remember getting in the cruiser.  He asked, "Were you drinking?"

"No.  I fell asleep."

"Do you have a driver's license?"

"Yes.  I'll get it."

"Where is it?"

"In the car."

"No. Leave it."

He wrote me a ticket and said I would need to see the judge.  The tow truck arrived and the driver was a friend from college.  He hooked onto the car, pulling it up the embankment.  When they got it up to the road I could see some plants hanging from the under carriage.

Bill asked, "Do you want us to tow it in?  Or do you want to see if it will start?"

"Let's start it."

The LTD started without a whimper.  I headed home with the tow truck following behind.

Lesley called her brother to come get her.  I called Mom and let her know I was ok.  She was upset and wanted me to go see a doctor.  Sheila knocked on the door about 10 minutes later to check on me.  Mom had called her.  I told her I was ok.

Mrs Dunn - a neighbor came by.  Looked at me and told me to go pack.  Her family was going fishing for the weekend.  I remember calling Mom and telling her I was going fishing and would be back in a couple of days.  I neglected to tell her I was going with the Dunns.

After the weekend I wanted to stop and get the paper.  The graduation pictures were supposed to be in it.  Mrs Dunn went and got the paper and came back to the vehicle.  I reached for it and she wouldn't give it to me.

"Ruth, its not a good idea."

I insisted.  The headlines talked about a fatality that happened the day after my wreck.  High school kids had been drinking.  They didn't make it down Government Hill.  Several died.  I was subdued after reading the article.

A week later found me again out at the ranch. Big John asked me, "Didn't they teach you anything at that school?"

"Yes sir.  They did."

"Didn't they teach you what a bed is for?"

"No sir, I guess they didn't"

He looked at me like I was the dumbest bunny he had ever seen, "Maybe its time you learned."

Clyde gave me a ride back to town.  We stopped where I went off.  He was surprised that even with the rain we had the car tracks were still visible.  My tires had sunk about 4 inches into the ground before the car went air-born.

I am sure my guardian angel took the wheel as we went over the embankment.


  1. Wow, I couldn't stop reading that story and even though the title fit it perfectly, I wasn't prepared for the seriousness of the accident.
    So good that had that guardian angle Ruth,

  2. First, I find it amazing that you remember all these details, but again when it's a life-threatening story, it must stay in your mind very vividly. I believe you did have an angel somehow watching over you. That's my favorite part of the story. Certainly something guided that car safely. Ruth, you are such a good storyteller!

  3. I felt like I was there. You did a great job telling this. I found myself holding my breath as the car flew. You most definitely have a guardian angel

  4. Ruth, I just read this blog that I like because they tell about all kinds of books, but this one connects to Montana & I thought you'd like to see it. Happy Monday!

  5. Oh. My. Word. What a story! Someone was certainly watching out for you.

  6. Wow, what a story! Have you written this before? I can't help but wonder about your process and how you feel know that it is "on the page."

  7. Ruth Ayres,
    This is the first time I have written this group of car stories. This event left an indelible mark on me for many reasons.

    Process: I think in my mind about the events. What is germane to this story. I wrote it like I would tell it out loud. I usually read it to my husband first.

    Reading it out loud helps me hear what works and where I have problems. I can see his facial expression and that lets me know if I have made the connection.

    For me writing a blog and having people leave comments has been invaluable as a writer.

    I feel good now that "it is on the page." I am glad you asked the question, I had not consciously known the steps I take until I put it into words.

  8. I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I go to the very end. I love your car stories. This is the second one I have read. For some reason when I read them I am taken back in time to stories told by my mother and my grandparents. Maybe it is the "old" cars. I find reading my writing out loud to be very helpful too.

  9. I was riveted through the whole story. I am glad that your guardian angel was there with you that day.


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