General Fiction posted July 16, 2017


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A short memoir

Sing it, Brother Acuff

by LIJ Red

Not moralizing, no soapbox, after all, it's always been one person, one death, sooner or later. Just telling you what I saw, and calling it a memoir.

I graduated from the Navy's Class A electronics service school, not as an Electronics Technician but as a Communication Technician, Maintenance. I was on my way to Pensacola's Corry Field to attend the Class C school there. I had two weeks leave and five days travel time. I roared down US Highway 41, all the way from North Chicago to Dalton, Georgia. From there I crossed the rugged Fort Mountain to Ellijay, my 1957 Ford Fairlane hardtop talking trash through twin glasspacks. A great homecoming.

Three days of dinners and movies and making the rounds of my hometown later, my girlfriend and I were getting out of Ellijay at sundown, heading up state highway five to Blue Ridge, Georgia and the Swan Drive-in Theater. We were alone. All three of my best buddies were in the Army or Marines. No one was left to double date with. Nam was heating up that July of 1966.

A quarter-mile outside the city limit, the highway was blocked with stopped traffic. A red and white Plymouth, one of the finny kind, sat in the underbrush at the bottom of a ten-foot embankment on the right side of the highway. People were bustling around it, obviously helping the driver and passengers out of the vehicle.

This wreck was fresh. I stopped, turned off the engine and told my gal, "Wait here, let me see if I can help."

The sun was down, but there was still a lot of light. The evening star was visible in a cloudless sky.

I hurried up the grade, past a half-dozen parked cars, my blood going cold at the sound of sobbing and a child screaming.

The small crowd was gathered around a car sitting in the right lane. The chrome and other parts identified the car as a 1955 Ford. I had driven a '55 Club Sedan for years. The wreck was no longer than the space between the pairs of doors before the crash, unrecognizable a few steps away.

I glanced at the Plymouth in the pasture ravine. It was totalled, the front end smashed and driven back almost to the windshield. A battered, bloody young woman was trying to soothe and quiet a toddler girl beside the wreck, with several people trying to help. Low voices from the group around the Ford emphasized the silence within. There was a lot of blood on the asphalt. Same sweetish scent as when a dog gets run over.

In the center of the road, a few yards from the crushed 1955, a 1962 Galaxy convertible sat alone, ignored. Its front was punched back even worse than the Plymouth. I went to it.

A young man was nailed to the seat by the dash and steering column. One leg, nearly amputated, was grey and bloodless around the gaping wound. His face was peaceful, eyes closed, lips pressed together. He was dead. Dead and reeking of whisky.

A man joined me as I stood rubbernecking. He said, "He pulled out of the Steak House parking lot and shot around me like I was backing up. He must have been doing ninety when he hit that 55 head-on. Drove it back into the Plymouth following it out of town."

I walked back to my car. I followed the others, who turned their cars around in the road and drove back into Ellijay. The sheriff and an ambulance met me as I entered the town limits. I took the alternate route to Blue Ridge, the Boardtown highway. I don't remember what was on at the Swan that Saturday night, but I still have a clear picture of that guy, little more than my age, mangled and dead and alone in his powerful convertible. I also remember the smells of engine oil and antifreeze and whisky and blood and the honeysuckle vines off the side of the right-of-way.

Fast cars and good liquor, a way of life that was scarcely rattled by the two dead women and two dead kids in the 1955 Ford, or the one drunk in the convertible. Over fifty thousand people died on US roads that year.

I married the girl and we rented a trailer on Mobile Highway, but I was a little older and quieter after that five minutes on the road between Ellijay and The Steak House.



Roy Acuff sang Wreck On The Highway 'way back when...
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