What a strange experience - going to school with girls! I hadn't been in a class with a girl since 8th grade and here I was in an orange grove in Florida with a bevy of women. At first, I thought they were all tramps. Little did I realize that we were all adolescents with raging hormones. I made peace with it quickly and made lots of friends - even "dated" a girl. We were so "entangled" we got put on date restriction - which meant we couldn't talk to each other for a week. We managed.
The school had a chorus teacher, Lila LaVar. That name always sounded like an opera singer to me. And she was. She sang opera in Orlando and when Opera Orlando presented their annual production, she took me with her and allowed me backstage for the whole production. I met Roberta Peters (who cussed like a sailor) and Mildred Miller (who didn't cuss, but was a perfect lady). I still love her and have her recordings. I don't own a Roberta Peters recording. We used to call her "Becky Sharpe".
There was no Disney World at the time but Orlando was a great place to visit. One of my grammar school chums was there and her family invited me over for many weekends. I even went to Rollins College and saw many productions at the Annie Russell there, as well as visits to the Knowles Chapel, home of Catherine Crozier, Organist.
At Stetson, a couple of prep school friends joined me for higher education. One was my beloved friend Kirby Williams. We were fast friends and one weekend I said "Let's go to the Bach Festival at Rollins!" So we got in her snazzy sports car and ventured to Winter Park connecting with another Howey classmate, Linda Borden. Yes, Borden. She was the Borden milk heiress. I told you it was a school for rich kids.
Well, we didn't stay at Rollins very long. I manipulated everyone to go to a deli in Orlando for pastrami on rye and Cel-Ray colas. While eating lunch, I said, "Let's drive over to Howey and surprise everyone."
Another crossroad. We couldn't all fit into Kirby's sports car so we got in Linda's 1959 Impala coupe. Linda was at the wheel and I am in the passenger seat ratting Kirby's hair in the back seat! Yes. And we are on the notorious Fla Highway 50. There is a light rain falling and we are coming down a long incline. All of a sudden, there is a black Buick (cast iron they were then) spinning in front of us. We couldn't avoid it; we hit them broadside. And our car veered to the left side of the road and stopped. I lost my bowels on impact and started bleeding from the front of my head.
The next thing I remember is opening the passenger door and seeing the highway running red with blood. I looked at Linda at the wheel and she was unconscious. She had gone through the steering wheel and hit the dashboard and her chin was cut and hanging down on her chest. The two girls in the back were unhurt, but crying. Then a state trooper appeared and got me out of the car and put me into his squad car. The girls were put in an ambulance and off we all went to Clairmont Hospital.
Arriving at the hospital, the girls were treated in the ER and I just wandered around sort of in a daze. I called everyone's parents and told them what had happened. I even called my father. His response? "Well, if you'd been where you were supposed to be, that wouldn't have happened." Thanks, Dad. No "How do you feel? or "Are you all right?" So I called my uncle in Atlanta. He got on the phone with the doctors and then he got on a state plane and flew to Clairmont. Thanks, Uncle Gene.
After all those phone calls and taking care that all the girls were all right, I decided to go to the bathroom. Indelicate as this is, I have to tell this part of the story. Upon completing my "business" I went to wipe and realized there were two holes back there, and I looked at the paper and it was blood red.
I walked out of the bathroom and said to the battleaxe charge nurse, "I think something's wrong." So into the ER I go and they put me on the operating table and lower the front and the back portions of the operating table. So there I am with my ass high in the air. They moan, but they take huge surgical tape and spread my ass cheeks wide open and then a giant bulb of peroxide squirts. And the surgeon comes in and I pass out.
The outcome is that I had 185-stitch gash about 1/2 an inch from my rectum. The injury was the size and shape of an ice cream cone and the surgeon started at the bottom and sewed me together. I only felt the last stitch. They take me to a room and proceed to pick glass out of my back for the next 6 hours. They wouldn't let me turn over on my back. They wouldn't feed me anything but morphine, and I wanted food.
The next morning I wake to find the same state trooper standing over me. He questioned me extensively about the accident. I was worried about the girls. Linda had already been transported by ambulance to Orlando. It was then that the trooper told me what had happened. Here goes.
The Buick whirling and spinning in the road was filled with 6 drunk African-American men. And 5 of them were killed instantly by the impact and the 6th was/is a paraplegic completely paralyzed from the neck down for life. And the accident made the front page of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
It seems that, sitting sideways with my back on the passenger door, I had gone through the windshield and then took the door handle of the car off with my right ass cheek! The trooper said I had also ruined the leather upholstery in the squad car. But here's the weirdest: no one could find the door handle! No, I don't make a noise when I sit down. And that was March 3, 1963. And the door handle is still missing. One good thing about being fat, the surgeon told me if my butt hadn't been so big, it would have torn my rectum and I would have had to have a colostomy bag for life.
So I guess that's why I rarely ride in cars. I drive or I don't travel. Two tragic accidents brought on by drunks: Mama's death and my near-death experience. Nope, I drive.
But where is that door handle?