Our young family piled into the car for a summer afternoon drive, parents in the front, children in the back, and windows open just wide enough for a cool, fanning breeze.
Suddenly, moments froze in time, as in a fast-forwarding newsreel, an accident unfolded in the opposite lane before our starting eyes.
“They’re going to crash!” my husband yelled, an ongoing domino-effect catastrophe now in command.
WHAM! The struck car crashed into the car to our rear, which, in turn, slammed into us. Time stood still long enough for us to gather our jumbled wits and thank God nobody seemed to be seriously hurt.
Blood poured out of my broken nose like water spurting from a pinched garden hose, the result of a direct hit to the dashboard. All three kids were crying and their daddy was herding all of us out and away from the steaming car, his broken ribs notwithstanding . . .
“Excuse me, they’re WHO?” I question my husband.
Rubbing his bandaged chest, he starts over, whispering while the two “gentlemen” seat themselves in our living room.
“They’re delivering subpoenas for us to appear in court about the accident.”
“That’s right, ma’am; appreciate your cooperation,” the younger man spoke, his Adam’s apple sliding up and down like a county fair’s sledge-hammer gauge.
His partner, sporting a sheriff’s badge, handed us two official-looking envelopes.
“We already told the police all we saw. The driver of the convertible came out of the cross street and pulled out in front of the guy traveling southbound, sending him careening into our northbound lane,” protesting about the prospect of taking more time off work and scanning my mental list of available daytime babysitters.
“I’m sure you did, Mrs. Madison, but the ticketed driver is contesting . . . Oh, and here are your older children’s subpoenas,” the assistant extending two more envelopes.
“WHAT?! Why, they couldn’t see anything, Sheriff! They were in the back seat and their heads don’t even reach the windows! Furthermore, Julie is only five years old and Gerogie is only three! They’ve been through enough, already!” nightmares and sudden noise fears now familiar monsters in our lives.
“I’m sorry for that, ma’am, but they will still have to appear.”
‘Over my dead body,’ I am thinking, even as I said aloud with dripping sarcasm,
“Well, why don’t you subpoena our 1-year-old while you’re at it. After all, she could see better in her infant seat than any of us,” my ire rising along with my blood pressure.
No response to THAT. They rise to leave.
“So, we will see the four of you in court next week,” the sheriff’s cohort's Adam’s apple keeping time to each handshake pump.
“My husband and I will come,” I promise, “but we’re not bringing our traumatized children.”
“Then, I am afraid, Mrs. Madison, that I will have to issue warrants for your arrest--failure to comply and all that, you see.”
“You’ve GOT to be kidding,” I protest, but his stern expression confirmed his ability and intention to do exactly that.
Now I am really ticked off, a mama bear protecting her young cubs. Pre-schoolers on a witness stand? Unbelievable! My husband agrees with me, but sees no alternative but to bow to the authorities’ stupidity. Later that afternoon, we sit Julie and Georgie down and explain that we will be going to a big building to tell some “nice” people about what happened the day we all got “ow-ies” from the car crashing.
“I only saw stars,” poor little Julie referring to her head bumps.
“It was LOUD,” her brother clasps chubby little hands over both ears.
“That’s all you have to say,” I reassure them, “it will be like an adventure! Afterwards, we’ll all go out for ice cream!”
We weren’t able to find a sitter for baby Eliza, my husband had to take more time off work, and I was more than willing to give the whole judicial system a piece of my mind when, one week later, we all trooped into the courthouse. Moments later, the charged driver’s attorney approached us. Realizing that our two testimonies alone would condemn his client, they decided to plead “no contest” and there was no trial. To make up for our valuable time, the court paid each of us one half day’s stipend, which we used for our children’s swimming pool.
We all enjoyed this prize for the rest of the summer, a perfect antidote for the healing process.
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