Spring and Summer bring butterflies flitting from flower to flower, birds chirping sweet songs, and a memory etched in my mind that gives me visceral reactions.
As I drive down the highway with Jimmy Buffet blasting in my ears, windows open and breeze flowing through my long blonde hair I see it before me.
It’s a common sight and yet it brings back memories that make me come unglued, and I try to hold it together in my seat as I drive. I desperately look for a place to turn around, a gas station, a u-turn, anything to keep me from having to go near it. I’m having such a strong reaction to the memory I can feel my lunch coming up the back of my throat. Why do I do this every time? Deep breaths, breathe through your nose, I tell myself.
In July 1975, it was a hot summer day in Missouri. I was eight years old and I had just come home from a day of bible school with my family and my friend Judy. We had enjoyed our time at bible school, the stories, the games, the outdoor fun, and the snacks. It was a hot, humid day, as my mom drove home with Judy and I in the backseat, we planned out our day of fun. We decided to have lunch, then go to the neighborhood pool, and then ask for a sleepover. Our moms approved of the lunch and pool, so we decided to wait until later to ask about the sleepover.
We ate sandwiches, pringles, and watermelon and got our bathing suits on. Of course we had to wait that mandatory 30 minutes before swimming because it was a hard and fast rule. Everyone knows if you don’t wait 30 minutes before swimming on an empty stomach you will surely sink.
We were so excited about going to the pool we could barely contain ourselves. We had not been able to go for a few days because of bad weather. Sandals on! Sunscreen on! Coverups on! Check, Check, Check!
We began walking down the hill towards the neighborhood pool. My mom was lagging behind because she was holding all of the towels, drinks, and snacks. My brother had gone earlier with his buddies and was already at the pool, but he was older and could be there without Mom as long as another adult was around.
We approached the sidewalk that led to the pool, as we talked and walked, Judy and I kept our eyes glued on each other excitedly talking about the games we would play in the pool.
At first, I didn’t even know what was going on, I heard screaming and was looking around to see if Judy was hurt. The screaming was coming out of my mouth! I looked at her, her eyes wide and scared, and I realized I was sinking in freshly poured hot tar. Then I began to feel the heat, the unbelievable, penatrating heat of the molten tar was covering the bottoms and tops of my feet and I could not move.
In school, I had learned about quicksand. I remember being scared that one day I would find myself trapped in a pool of quicksand, not being able to release it’s grip around me. Never in my wildest dreams, did I worry about hot tar. Where were the workers? Where was the caution sign? Still sinking in, people were staring and it felt like years were passing.
I felt her arms wrap around me softly, I whisper in my ear, “You’re going to be alright, I’m a nurse.” She pulled me slowly up out of the smoldering tar, I could smell the burnt flesh of my skin. I saw my brother running towards me, he had heard my screams from the pool. The anguish on his face was relentless! My mom had watched the incident happen, and ran ahead to check on me, then leaving to go get our car to transport me to a medical facility.
The sweet nurse, carried me gently to the big pool. Kids were splashing and playing in the shallow end as if nothing was happening, but I was screaming as if a knife had plunged deep into my body. She lowered my into the cold water, the steam was rising up from the water like rain on a hot cement road. There was no relief yet. God, where are you?
My mom brought the car close to the pool and the nurse and a lifeguard carried me to the vehicle. My brother jumped in the back seat, soaking wet, but ready to help in any way possible. My mom was shaking like a leaf, her voice quivvering with fear and anxiety, but her words came out slow and calculated. “We are going to see a Doctor. They will know exactly what to do.” I remember hearing her muffled words under my cries of anguish. I trusted her, it would be just fine.
We arrived and the Doctor and nurses took one look at my feet, they smiled pleasantly as if I had a minor boo boo. Yet, I’d seen that face before, they were putting on a show. I knew it was bad. They gave me some medicine to put me to sleep because they would have to try to remove the tar. I was so grateful they were going to allow me to sleep through whatever was going to happen.
I woke to a roomfull of nurses, monitors beeping and doctors coming in an out. My Mom had called my Dad and he had gotten there as quick as he could drive. My brother sat quiet in the chair by the door. Normally, he would tease me, but not this time.
I was sent home, with strong directions to stay in bed until my feet healed. Ointment and bandages changed often, ice on my feet and my feet had to stay elevated at all times. I remember begging my parents to tell me how long it would take to heal my feet, they would smile and say God is in control. His timeline is best!
I would pray to God, “God, please let my feet heal quickly so I can walk again soon.” Time would pass, healing would take place, but the process of healing such burns is a slow one.
I began wondering if my feet would ever work again. Would they heal properly? Would I be able to run, bike, and swim with my friends? As I child, I had not yet learned how to trust in God completely. However, as time passed, I became confident that I would be fine if I were not able to walk again. I knew God had a plan for my life and perhaps this was part of the plan. I would plead with God to hear my prayers, and God gave me assurance that he was in control. I felt God’s presence around me when I was lonely lying in that bed. I felt God’s presence when I couldn’t pray anymore because I was weary.
So, now when I’m driving down the highway, and I see the cement truck carrying asphalt and workers pouring out onto the road, I still have a sickening feeling come over my body. I still sweat and shake, but I thank God that he is the ultimate healer, and he stood tall when I could not!
Blessings Sweet Friends,