There is another day at Uncle Caskie’s etched in my mind, another day of Dad drinking, another day in which somehow we all made it home alive. This day was different from the day of the deuce and a half; for one thing my trip home was with Dad and not with Mom – it was Dad and brother Bill and me; Mom and brother Jim made it home on their own – I don’t know how, I don’t know when. I don’t know if they arrived before we did or after. What I do remember is the terror of my trip and the look on that woman’s face in the car next to ours on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland – that woman in the front passenger’s seat sitting beside her husband…there were kids in the back of her car…I can’t see the kids, I can’t see the husband, but I see the wife and mother and the fear.
I don’t know how many car accidents my father was in but there are two I remember – I was in one of the accidents and Bill was in the other. My accident happened one night on East-West Highway in Bethesda, Maryland. Dad was driving, there was a friend of his in the front seat; I was in the back seat with another of his friends. I can’t imagine why I was out with Dad at night. I remember the car was going fast, I recall asking him to please slow down, then I remember the man in the back saying, “Bob, Lou (my family uses my middle name “Louis” so I was known as Lou when growing up) wants you to slow down.”
Of course Dad did not slow down, not even when we approached the intersection of East-West Highway and Wisconsin Avenue – we plowed into the back of a car. As far as I can remember no one was hurt – amazing. I don’t remember how I finally got home that night; I do remember it was cold – I was cold standing by the side of the road.
About two years ago my boss and I drove to Bethesda from Richmond to visit a client whose office was around this intersection, the old landmarks were gone - the Hot Shoppes, Gifford’s Ice Cream, the movie theater – but the intersection was still there. I thought about the wreck, I thought about that night; of course I kept it to myself.
The wreck Billy was in was more serious. It was my birthday, friends were over, it was party time. Dad was actually home that day. We needed ice cream – Dad said he’d go get it and that he’d take Billy with him. The grocery store was ten minutes away – he didn’t come home that day, I didn’t see him that night. He took Billy and picked up Uncle Cleve and who knows who else and went to the horse races in West Virginia. After the races Cleve was driving home and wrecked the car – maybe this time being drunk saved my Dad’s life, I don’t know. Undoubtedly Billy was the only sober person in the car – it didn’t matter who was driving, every adult in that car was responsible – they could have killed my brother. My Dad, as Mom told the story, was knocked unconscious in the wreck; my brother flew from the backseat to the front seat but escaped serious injury.
I remember coming downstairs the following morning to see my father sitting at the head of our dining room table with a face stitched up like Frankenstein’s monster. So much for ice cream.
We used to have a green Ford station wagon. Once when Mom was in the hospital for her heart condition Dad had it painted black. I still recall Mom’s words when she first saw the new paint job, “Looks like a hearse.” She had to be wondering whether the hearse would be carrying her boys.