My brothers, Johnny and David and I used to play Cowboys & Indians on the farm in Michigan where we grew up. They were always the cowboys and I was the Indian. I had a make shift bow and some sticks for arrows. They had toy guns and sometimes even the kind that had rolled up red paper with actual gunpowder that would pop when fired. My arrows didn’t fly and I usually felt overwhelmed by the cowboys and their guns.
One early August day we were playing on the hill that separated our small farmhouse from the main road. You could look down and watch the occasional car go by or turn back towards the house and see the comings and goings of our home.
On that particular day, I was getting a bit fed up with hearing those guns pop, so I yelled that I was tired of being the Indian and I was going to go in the house and get myself a gun. I ran to the house and as I raced through the back door I came upon a scene that is forever burned into my memory.
When our mother wasn’t working she would sit in her chair and crochet for hours. As hard as she worked, she always wore a dress. Isn’t that funny to imagine a farm woman wearing a dress? I mean this was 1970 not 1870.
When I came into the living room I saw my mother sitting on the floor in front of her chair, her crochet yarn and needle still in her lap. My father was kneeling beside her holding her head as it flopped over to one side, vomit coming out of her mouth. My older sister, Janet was at the black wall phone trying to dial a number on the rotary dial with shaking fingers, fear written all over her 14 year old face.
I ran back up the hill and told the cowboys, who quickly turned back into my brothers, that our mom was in trouble. We sat together on the hill, watching the road carefully and listening intently for the sirens of the ambulance that was coming to make our mom better. It seemed like hours passed by and when the ambulance finally came we raced back to the house.
We managed to get inside just as the two medics were putting our mother up onto a gurney. When they placed her on the rolling bed, I saw that her dress was up, showing her underwear. My mom didn’t have pretty underwear, just reliable practical ones, the kind a hard working farmwoman would wear. I knew she would be mortified if anyone saw her with her dress up. I wanted to pull her dress down, but the medic closest to me showed me without saying a word, that he was worried and in a big hurry.
They pushed her into the back of the ambulance and Dad jumped in with them, shouting to our brother Steven to follow in the car.
The rest of us stood in the driveway watching them speed away. I’m not sure how much time went by before we walked back in the house and tried to act like it was just another typical Sunday.
We had a tradition on Sunday night to sit as a family and watch “Wonderful World of Disney”, so at seven o’clock, our sister got us together to watch. Disney really is the wonderful world, because for me, that night, Disney took my fears away for one hour. I remember feeling like everything was going to be okay.
Five minutes later that changed. Our father came into the house at 8:05 with Steven holding his arm. He didn’t look at all like our dad. He was shorter somehow, and older. He came into the living room and looked at each of us and said, “Your Mother is dead”. I watched my 6’2” strong, capable Dad crumble to the floor. I had no idea what to do or say or feel.
I didn’t even cry. How do you cry when you are in shock? Tears don’t form when you are a robot or a statue. That’s how you feel when you can’t feel anything at all. Eventually I just walked up the stairs and climbed into bed, where I dreamt of my mother being on a vacation somewhere.
I think that was the last day we ever played Cowboys and Indians.