Preoccupied as usual, his head deep inside the hood of his slate blue parka, breath steaming out, he never saw the truck. It was a Ford 150. Jimmy Devens, 34, two kids in grade school, running late, on his way to his part-time job as a mechanic, didn’t have time to step on the brake. His front bumper struck Clarence in the hip, shattering bones and knocking him high over the truck to land on the pavement behind. The truck bounded off the road, hit a sign, and stopped.They towed it to the junkyard.
Clarence had a fractured hip, three broken ribs, severe bruising, and multiple fractures in his pelvis. The orthopedist in Augusta said there was no point in operating. He was old. His shattered bones needed too much work, and he was too sick. Better to let him die painlessly in a cloud of morphine.
I was working in London and it took two days to get a flight. “Don’t worry,” my mother, Cora said, “there’s really nothing you can do. Nothing any of us can do.”
A 32 year old orthopedic surgeon at the Maine Medical Center in Portland heard about Clarence’s accident and wanted to try out a new idea—build a cage inside him to hold his bones together while they healed.
By the time I got there, metal rods stuck out of Clarence’s hip and the outline of another metal rod bulged low on his back. He had been on his feet for a moment that morning.
“You’re going to be O.K.,” I said.
“Of course, I am,” he said, managing a grin.
“It looks like you hurt.”
“I hurt, but the stuff they’re giving me takes some of the edge off.” The grin faded into a grimace.
“You have to let me do a story. For The Mainer.”
“On you. On your accident. It’s news: Truck Hits Editor. You need to let your advertisers know what happened to you. How come you’re not coming around, asking for advertising.”
He said O.K., but he wasn’t happy about it. I wrote it that night, keeping it as straight and simple as I could. Just the facts. Editor Hit by Truck.
The next morning he read it in one gulp and put it down. “Goddamn it, Bobby, I’m 82, not 83. I’ll write it.”
|Cora & Clarence circa 1975|