A little Sunday Story

It has rained and rained. Now it is snowing!

Honestly it feels more like New Zealand than Illinois right at the moment.

The cows are locked up off the sodden fields and have no patience when they see one of the ‘good’ bales come out. Not even waiting for me take the strings off and throw it into the feeder.

I wrote you a story from when I was really little:

They found me in the ditch.

I was three years old.


We were driving from the beach to the mountains for a family day playing in the snow.

I liked to ride standing tucked behind my Dad’s shoulder as he drove the car. I had to be able to see, I still do and I did not like to be tied down, I still don’t. So when Dad was driving I was allowed to stand in the front seat as long as I was wedged in behind him.

We were heading up the mountain when a car coming down the mountain hit ice and spun headlong into our car. My mother (who was not wearing a seat belt because she was writing music), was propelled through the windscreen and into the road.

I was ejected straight out after her, twisting and bouncing like a little rag doll through the broken glass and bent cars. No-one knows what happened to me really but they believe that, being tiny, I bounced off the cars, through the glass, across the road and rolled into the ditch. Out of sight.

Miraculously my bothers and sisters were fine. Bruised and shocked. But no major injuries.

My mother and father and me did not get off as easily.

Once the ambulances got up the mountain, Mum, who was smashed to bits, had slipped into a deep coma. Dad was trapped behind the wheel of the car fading in and out of consciousness. Passers-by had taken the other children out of our VW Beetle and were keeping them warm in their own cars.

The two men in the other car were bruised and drunk.

In short order my family was piled into the ambulances and driven away.

The police took the drunks.

No-one knew a child was missing. No-one knew to look. I had rolled out of sight into the snowy ditch.

I was told that a passing car going in the other direction that afternoon saw me in the ditch, my face lacerated and bloody. Lying silently in the snow. They took me to a hospital where it was discovered that I had a broken jaw, dislocated shoulder and needed stitches in my face.

But it was not the same hospital as my family. No-one knew who I was. And of course I could not speak. I was almost four years old.

I was fixed up, cleaned up and laid in a cot. With no name on my chart.

My Grandma and Pa arrived at the family’s hospital, about 100 miles away, the next afternoon, to find a mess. Kids were stashed all over the place. Dad was just coming out of surgery and Mum remained in a coma; she had miscarried, not woken up and was receiving the last rites.

Apparently it was not until Dad surfaced the following morning ( on Day Two now) and counted his kids, that I was discovered missing.

Dad demanded they bring him a phone. The hospital beds had phone jacks beside them and the nurses carried the phones in and out. Dad called Mum’s cousin. Black Jack Stevenson. He was the Chief Detective Superintendent of the NZ Police Force. The best man I ever knew.

I am not sure if he was the top guy yet – he may have been a detective still but he set out to find the lost daughter.

It is a long story really – too much for here but it took a couple of days (no computers, no cell phones) for Uncle John (they called him Jack but we always called him Uncle John) to track me to a little country hospital on the other side of the lake.

When he arrived to collect me he found that I had been screaming at the nurses which seemed understandable.

He thought it would be trauma from being in a crash then having my whole family disappear.

But they told him that eventually they worked out that I was mad about being put in a cot when I was a BIG GIRL and should be in a bed!

I got the bed. And settled to wait.

No name. No words. Just don’t treat me like a baby.

Uncle John said later he was not sure he had found the right child until he saw my wild hair. Full of knots because I would not let the nurses brush it.

Like many old family stories this one was pieced together from the retelling of Grandma (who maintained that they brought back the wrong child), Uncle John (who portrayed himself as the hero galloping in on a horse to save the lost princess) and my Dad (who had to brush all the knots out of my hair).

All these people have died now. So there are no more facts to be mined.

I have three visual memories of the time. Peering through the cot bars at yellow gloomy hospital walls. Playing some kind of slap hand game with Uncle John in the ambulance bay waiting for the ambulance to collect us and drive us to Mum and Dad. And the memory of Dad on crutches reaching down to greet me.

They said they took me in to visit Mum but I did not recognize her.

My Mum remembered nothing of that time.


38 Comments on “A little Sunday Story

  1. Good god! What an awful thing, I really have no words, but I am glad everyone survived. Grandma sounds like a character- maintaining you were not the correct child returned to the family! I think huge trauma like that is often lost to bits and pieces. Our brains just cannot imagine or process the entire story.

  2. Wow, how traumatic! For all involved! You certainly do have stories depicting an exciting, very eventful life Celi!!! I love reading them!!!

  3. Oh Cece, this is amazing and miraculous. I love it–but only because everybody came out okay, though your poor Mom. Black Jack sounds like quite the character!

  4. SO traumatic, but what an escape for you all. No wonder you can only recall little bits here and there! No wonder your mum remembered nothing, l’m not surprised x

  5. Oh Celi ~ what a story for you and your parents ~~thankful all of you lived ~ oh dear. Some terrible injuries. Boo shoulda been with you’s ~ he woulda taken care of you and stayed by you in the ditch. Love these pictures!! Those cows are hungry!!! Hurry up Celi ~ we want some hay!! Boo and Nelson ~ so cute together!!! Hugs!!!

      • Oh thanks for thinking of me Celi ~ along with my grief, I’m dealing with some serious shoulder problems ~ lots of osteoarthritis, bursitis and more. the MRI’s show 3 tears in there!! ~ has been lots of pain!! And no Jerry to help me get dressed or put my necklaces on!! Missing him so much. As they say ~ part of life.

  6. I think it’s a story of miracles. One that everyone survived it. Especially your Mom & you, and two – that you were spotted in that snowy ditch & saved a second time. Poor little child. Really quite a “little Sunday Story”.

  7. This is worthy of a book, if not a movie. Glad that traumatic part of your life had a happy ever after ending. Thank you for sharing.

  8. And here you are now, wild hair and all, grandchildren of your own, and your future unwritten. Sláinte, c.

  9. Oh my god..I can’t believe that they didn’t connect an injured child (you) found in the exact same spot where a terrible accident had just occurred! Especially in a small rural area with most likely the same police department. There has got to be more to that story..anyway..so glad everyone survived ok and that you lived to tell the story! Your poor mum though losing her baby. 😦

    • The people who took me – took me to a hospital far away – no one knows who they were ( not in the memory stories anyway) but yes. That initial muddled time was interesting .

  10. I have memories like that-snapshots that freeze time. What a wild and confusing time for your poor family. I can remember being four in the hospital and furious they stuck me in a crib. I escaped at night and fed all the children in my room water prior to their tonsillectomies. I don’t remember if I climbed back into the crib but I never got the ice cream that was supposed to be the bribe. I’m glad you are here to tell the tale.

  11. You have such a talent for suspense… I was holding my breath as I read. How marvelous you have a family member called “Black Jack”! And he came to the rescue of the fair tangled hair maiden.

  12. Good grief. What an absolutely hair-raising event. I’m surprised you’re not terrified of snow and ice. You certainly deserve to be… But, as we all know, your resilience is legendary.

  13. Sounds like you have a memoir in the making… keep journaling. It is very carthadic. Blog or no… You are very special Celi…

  14. My gosh, that’s quite an experience. I am sorry that your mom was never the same after, but it sounds like an horrific time. Thanks for telling the story. And Black Jack sounds like quite an uncle! I had a famous uncle who seemed larger than life when I was a kid, and I had lots of interesting times being packed up with him and my cousins. Great (?) memories!

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