A Memorial Day to Remember
by Beth Kozan
Let me tell you about May 30, 1956 – the day lightning struck our neighbor, Elmer.
School was out. The cotton was planted. After dinner (served at noon), Daddy had gone back to the field. About 2 p.m., a thunderstorm announced its quick approach with thunder and lightning. Daddy came back to the house on our little Ford tractor. In those days, tractors had no enclosed cab, so he returned home to stay dry. When it started to sprinkle, Nita Karen (almost 8) and Larry (almost 5) came in from the pasture where they were attempting a bareback ride on Ginger.
I was standing back from the front screen door; we all knew to stay away from the metal of the screen because of the danger of lightning! Suddenly, there was an especially close flash of lightning, followed by the instant roar of thunder. In that flat West Texas terrain when the air is humid and still, voices carry much farther than you’d think. From a half mile away, we could hear Blanche and her sons, Elmer Dean and Leon, yelling loudly, though we couldn’t make out the words. Blanche’s cry became a wail, and we realized that Elmer, who’d been plowing on his little Ford tractor, had been hit by lightning.
Mother and Daddy rushed out to our old blue ’49 Chevy pickup truck, telling me to watch Larry and Nita Karen. We kids stood at the door and the picture window and watched as the plume of dirt indicated the progress of the pickup truck on the dirt road. We knew Daddy had it floored! They stopped at the tractor: there was lots of activity, but we couldn’t tell what was happening.
What can I do to help? In all my 13 years, I hadn’t faced a more helpless feeling. I’ll call Bill and Alene. They lived just a half-mile north of the activity. Alene answered, and when I told her we thought Elmer had been struck by lightning and Mother and Daddy had gone to help, she said, “I’m home alone, but I’ll go see what I can do!” We kids watched from our window as Alene’s green and white 1956 Olds 88 kicked up the dust, just as the pickup had. It wasn’t long before we saw the Olds speed back down the dirt road, then turn east to the paved road to Sand Hill and points beyond.
We kids wouldn’t know until Mother arrived, alone in the blue pickup, that when she and Daddy got out to the accident site, Elmer Dean and Leon had loaded their dad, who was barely breathing, into the bed of their pickup truck. They were prepared to drive Elmer to the Lockney hospital about 17 miles away, the nearest one to our farms in the Harmony Community. When Alene arrived, they reasoned that the Oldsmobile would be a quicker ride, and Alene insisted Daddy drive. Elmer Dean and Leon lifted their father from the pickup to the backseat of Alene’s car. Elmer Dean knelt beside his dad, and Leon followed with his mother to Lockney in their pickup truck. Elmer was alive but unconscious when they left.
About dark, Daddy came home, having delivered the Olds to Bill and Alene’s. Bill drove Daddy home. Elmer was alive, and it looked like he would make it.
The next day we drove to the Lockney hospital to see Elmer sitting up in his hospital bed, his usual cheerful self, declaring he was lucky to be alive! He showed us his straw hat with the top blown out and his melted metal watchband with the watch intact – it was a Timex, so it took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’! His work shoes had had a loose left heel, and the nails that held the heel in place were fused. Elmer recounted the path of the lightning bolt: through his hat, down the left side of his body, and out through the left heel.
We all agreed we’d witnessed a miracle!
Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Helping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.