New Horizons Writers’ Group

Our Winter Years

Jeri Holcombe Ragan

(To Honeyboy and Charlie)

Years have come and gone;

Our steps no longer lithe

as we cross the yard.

Your whiskers and mine,

whiten our faces into

two grizzled old men.

Still, you follow me

in slow arthritic walk,

a rhythm we both know.

You nudge my hand

to remind me of need,

when I grow forgetful.

Content to lie nearby,

my constant companion,

as time closes in on us.

I ruffle your fur

wondering who will go first,

or if luck will take us together.

Yet, as I yell “Fetch,”

and throw this well-worn ball

to watch your slow lope out.

The cadence of our days

the old routines we share,

just make me hope for more

A day that will live in infamy

Bob Hirt

On December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his famous “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor. That very phrase has so much and such different meaning to almost all of us, our families, people and families the world around. In our hearts and indelibly imprinted on our brain, our psyche, each of us has our very own “day that will live in infamy.” That day happened in the late evening of August 13, 2003, in my hometown in the Hudson Valley of eastern New York State.

“SHIRLEY, SHIRLEY? WHAT’S WRONG, WHAT’S WRONG?” Johnny Eggleston yelled as loud as he could from his front yard directly across the road as he saw Shirley, in her yard hysterically screaming. The screams became increasingly louder, interrupted by horribly guttural gasps, uncontrolled sobs, muffled only for seconds as she buried her face in her husband’s chest as he lay on the grass, blood coming from his mouth and ears. Rushing over, totally oblivious to oncoming traffic, Johnny saw the bloody, damaged and grotesquely contorted body of Al, appearing momentarily lifeless.

“WHAT HAPPENED, WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? Call an ambulance, for God’s sake. Call an ambulance. Who hit him, — WHO . . . RAN . . . OVER . . . HIM?”

“I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T KNOW,” she cried, — “I HEARD A LOUD NOISE AND I SAW A RED TRUCK LEAVE as I ran from the back yard and saw him laying here,” she shrieked between gasps and attempts to gain control of herself. She flew back into the house and immediately dialed 9-1-1.

After what seemed like forever, the ambulance came with its spine-chilling, frightening scream, followed by state troopers from a nearby barracks. After a quick exam, the ambulance driver and the medics yelled to Shirley, still numb from the surreal moments, “We’re calling a Medivac helicopter, we’re calling a helicopter.” Johnny collapsed on the ground next to Al, totally exhausted from doing continuous CPR. Then, blurting out and at the same time sobbing, he said to the trooper crouching next to him, “I think he’s gone, I think he’s gone!”

But Al wasn’t gone, and the medic took over CPR. He turned Al’s head to the side in an effort to give oxygen as well as prevent inhalation of blood into Al’s lungs. Inserting an I.V. line, the other medic knew right then the chances of his survival would be slim. What he saw was a close-to-lifeless body, a broken, twisted leg, compound fracture of both arms, a disfigured face and probably severe internal injuries. The helicopter came. Al was immediately air-lifted to St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, New York. Despite heroic efforts in the ER, he died the next morning at 3:11 a.m., the victim of an extremely drunk hit-and-run driver.

When the phone rang at our home at that hour, I already knew what to expect, based on the phone call we had received earlier. A phone call at that early hour can invariably mean something serious, a tragedy, pain, loss.

Anyway, the individual, a 26-year-old man, was found, quite by accident, by Al’s wonderful neighbors shortly after, on a dark side road. He was changing a blown-out front tire, caused when he hit a concrete curb in their front yard. When the neighbors came upon him, his comment, in slurred English was, “Hey, what’s goin’ on, guys?” He was hastily questioned, forcibly apprehended by them until the sheriff came, and he was then taken to the trooper’s barracks. He was subsequently put on trial and found guilty of drunk driving, negligent homicide and other charges. He was incarcerated for six years.

Al left behind a huge hole in the heart of his entire family and burgeoning grief in his neighborhood. And yet, knowing of his nature, he would be the first in line to forgive a reckless young man who had already had a run-in with the law two years earlier. Over 900 people came to Al’s funeral. I shall always remember almost every detail of that day.

Now, almost 14 years later, when my birthday comes, I instinctively think of the two cakes that my mother always made way back then when we were kids; one for me and one for Al. It was a day I shared with a great older brother, a loving husband to Shirley and a wonderful father to his children.

For each of us, there may very well be such a day, “A Day That Will Live in Infamy” — quite often a very sad day and, regrettably, a day that we need to accept and live with. For me, it is still a work in progress.