Monday, July 20, 2009


About 32 years ago, my dad and stepmother piled us four kids into our Volkswagen van and drove off to an evening screening of “The Jungle Book.”

Our van was not exactly pristine. The middle seat had been removed, so the center of the van was a big open space. The adults sat in the front seats and the kids sat way, way in the back on the one remaining bench seat.

Somewhere on this trip we kids decided it would be fun to stand up in the center of the van and sway while my dad rounded curves and made turns. We got giggly, tilting right and left and bumping into each other. Suddenly Dad turned left into the movie theater -- a particularly sharp turn that no one was ready for. My brother and stepsister fell against the van doors, which promptly flew open, and they both tumbled into the middle of the intersection.

I screamed “STOP!” to Dad, who pulled over on the side of the road and ran back to retrieve his kids. JM was fine, but Jennifer was still lying in the roadway with a bloody knot on her head. We were all shaken, but incredibly, we went on to the movie. (To this day, Jennifer doesn’t remember it at all.)

This is a legendary story in my family -- one of those tragicomic incidents that could have been disastrous, but because it wasn’t, makes a really good, even darkly funny tale.

While visiting the family this weekend, though, I discovered something interesting. We all remember the The Van Incident a little bit differently.

For example, I left my stepbrother out of the account above. That’s because my stepbrother insists that he wasn’t standing up with the rest of us and didn’t fall out of the van at all. As I recall, he fell out too -- I distinctly remember being the only one left in the van. I think he ran to the side of the road, like JM, and wasn’t injured.

We also had other disagreements about who saw what and how we made the appalling decision to go to the movie, despite the fact that my stepsister had a HEAD INJURY. (I definitely advocated for going to the movie. I can’t take the high road on that one.)

It’s a perfect illustration of how people can witness and even participate in an event and remember things so differently. (Granted, though, we’re also looking back through a 30-year haze, not to mention a likely concussion.)

It’s also amazing the authorities didn’t show up and take us kids away from my father and stepmother and make us wards of the state. But as Dad says now, he got us all out of there fast.

(Photo: Lower East Side, July 2009)


Barbara said...

This is one of those posts that evoke all sorts of emotions. I found myself laughing at kids being kids, then angry at your parents for their lack of parental responsibility, then happy that it all turned out fine in the end. We all have selective memories. The truth after the fact is often hard to nail down. Much of the time it doesn't really matter.

Did anyone remember the movie? It was at a drive-in theater, yes? The drive-in experience was quite a trip in and of itself regardless of what was showing!

Merle Sneed said...

The line between a minor mishap and a devastating tragedy isn't that broad.

You make a great point about eyewitness testimony. Your memory of this event might be accurate, ut it might also reflect what you assumed must have happened.

Reya Mellicker said...

You were all in shock, too (mild version) which is no doubt why you decided to go to the movie. Wow.

I guess that's why they strap kids into cards nowadays.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

wow! what a family tale despite all the takes on what exactly happened!

eyewitness accounts even right after an incident are incredibly varied. a few years ago I was with a small group and we experienced a hit and run accident - the 'victim' luckily was not a person but a door being opened on the car newly parked. a speeding car clipped the door off and quickly turned the corner. the four of us that 'saw' the incident each thought the speeding car was a different color and make - of course it was at that funny time of day turning into night so twilight may have something to do with it, but still the colors ranged from white to dark blue or black!

isn't it fun to get together with family and compare these legendary family tales!