The woman was about thirty, a young mother driving slowly along a residential street lined with houses built in the decade after the Second World War. Suddenly a boy darted in front of her car. She slammed on the brakes, knocking him to the ground.
It was 1960 and I was in first grade. I usually walked home from Glenwood Elementary but on that day school let out early and a friend’s mother was driving three or four of us home. A short block from my home on Davenport Avenue, I got out of the car with another boy, in front of his house to walk the rest of the way. I knew very well the “look both ways” rule of street crossing but this time I looked only one way. I failed to see the car being driven by the young woman who was browsing the neighborhood to see what houses were for sale. The car I got out of was still in the same spot and they saw me get hit. In that pre-cellphone era someone let my mother know, either by calling from nearby or running the five house distance to get her. I have a shadowy memory of my 28-year-old mother running down the slight hill to where I was in the street.
An ambulance came. I had a minor bruise on my ankle, but the shock of it happening caused me to wet my pants, which, as a six-year-old, constituted the worst part of this event. I was taken to the hospital to be examined further.
I missed a day of school. The next day while on the playground during morning recess I was approached by several older boys who were a couple grades ahead of me. I didn’t know them, but they knew who I was and made it clear that they had an issue with me. Hanging just below the American flag in front of the school was a large green flag on which were gold stars, each one signifying a perfect safety record for a particular year. The school was built in 1954 – same as me – so it was already festooned with a handful of stars. (At six years old, I assumed that anything I saw or encountered was a norm that everyone else was a party to as well, but have only recently learned from contemporaries who grew up in other school districts and other cities that these safety flags were not ubiquitous.) The playground boys shoved me in disgust, saying that because of me, “we won’t be getting a star this year!”
As an adult and as the father of a now grown woman who is older than my mother was at the time of the accident, I feel bad about the fright I caused my mother; with an admixture of shame and regret at the worry that must have consumed her as she ran to where there people clustered around me, fallen in the street.
My grandmothers, Goldene Greenberger, who died in 1990 at the age of 96, and Margaret Zolla, who died a dozen years later at 94, both went to their graves never knowing that I was hit by a car. My parents decided to not tell them for fear that they’d never let me cross a street on my own.
Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY. His latest CD of monologues & music is My Thoughts Approximately. www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg