Life is Fragile...


Psalm 42:11 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed with me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.


During his high school days, my son Charles spent his summer traveling with the Quad City Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. Drum Corps offers a unique blend of challenge and fulfillment.  Members must display self-discipline, dedication, and self-sacrifice.  Drum Corps offer members the opportunity to entertain large audiences with a mix of music, movement, and showmanship.  Being a corps member requires stamina and coordination, much the same as an athlete.   As a corps member, the entire summer is spent traveling from competition to competition on a charter-style bus, living out of a suitcase, and sleeping on gym floors.  Their practices begin months earlier.


Their opening weekend of practice for the 1993 season began one cold January weekend.  I had opted not to make the hour and a half drive to the Quad Cities amidst the snow.  Charlie was disappointed, but the perils of traveling in the snow quickly became a reality when we ran a quick errand in town that Saturday evening.


We were stopped at a red light when we were suddenly jolted forward.  I immediately turned to look out the back window, but saw no one behind me.  Somewhat baffled, I stepped out and walked to the back of the car.  Parallel with my car and only inches away from the passenger side was the station wagon that had skidded into us.  Both cars had considerable damage, but no one appeared seriously injured. 


By Monday, Charlie was complaining of back pain and I made him an appointment with a local chiropractor.  They wanted to examine me, too, but I assured them I was fine.  Over the next few weeks, Charlie went to their office for treatments.  It was just after Valentine's Day that I was preparing to take the car to the repair shop.  That morning, I reached for something, and an acute  pain flooded my body.  As the day wore on, I could not even straighten up.  As it turned out, I should have let them check me over.  I had a severe back injury.  The customary S-curve in my spine was completely gone.  My spine was straight from my neck to my tailbone.  The front view x-ray made my spine look like one big rippled potato chip.  It was many weeks before I would be pain free.


As the season wore on, Charlie was able to continue practicing with the Knights.  Come June, we weren't so sure he would be able to participate.  A little thing like a competitive cork ball game in the neighborhood nearly sidelined him.  Telephone poles and toes don't mesh too well....  Broken toe, orthopedic shoe, and all, Charlie was given the green light to go on tour.


It was not a typical summer.    Their season started that summer with flooding in the Quad Cities closing their usual practice field. 


June 23, they had been on the road less than 2 weeks when I got the phone call every parent fears.  The caller was another mom.  Her daughter happened to attend the same high school as my son....  I was secretary for the drum corps booster club and she was asking if I had a roster.  It seemed like a silly question at first.  Then I heard the words, "There's been an accident."  She was quick to tell me that she didn't have any details, but her daughter was conscious and able to give them her name and phone number. 


Did this mean kids were unconscious?  Was my son a passenger on this bus or was he in another part of their caravan?  She only knew there were multiple injuries and the kids were being transported to multiple hospitals.  They were not equipped for phone calls, but thought we should notify parents.  I hurriedly told her I would call her back.  As I hung up the phone, I let out a blood-curdling scream that sent my other three children flying down the stairs.  The wave of panic that I felt goes beyond description.


All I could think of was that I knew one of the fathers who happened to live nearby was traveling with the corps.  I called his home in hopes that he had already called there. Unfortunately, this mother, like me knew nothing.  I assured her I would call her right back.  I placed the call back to the first mom and calmly told her that I could not call another parent unless I knew more details.  She gave me the name of the hospital that had called her and I placed the call.  They gave me the names of those being treated there and assured me there were no life threatening injuries there.  They they gave me the name and number for the other hospital.


Making the second call, I was fortunate that their housing director was being treated at this hospital and he was able to give me more details than the hospital was willing to share...  I later realized he was spoon-feeding me details.  I called 25 homes to tell  parents that our children had been  passengers in the bus that had been first in the caravan.  Near Canton, Ohio, a car broadsided them after running a stop sign at a high rate of speed.  The impact threw the bus on its side and as they skidded to a halt, the guardrail broke and sent them rolling 30-40 feet down an embankment.  No corps members or staff were seriously injured.  It appeared that all would be treated and released.  When I made the last call, I sat down and cried... for three days.


I did not know till later that the driver of the car had been killed instantly.  I did not know that as the bus rolled and the windows fell out that young people were thrown through the windows.  That none were killed or seriously injured was nothing short of miraculous.  When one of my friends asked what I attributed this to, I had but one answer.  Their performance that year was based on songs from the musical, "Jesus Christ Superstar."  I truly believe that Jesus Christ Superstar was watching over each and every one of them.


A few days later, I drove to Monmouth, IL to await their return. The Canton Bluecoats had made room in their caravan for members of our corps and delivered them to Monmouth for their next competition.  One of the hardest things I have ever done in my life was to hug my son goodbye and watch him get back on the bus and pull away.


As the summer continued, there was their performance during a tornado warning in St. Louis. Their August performance at the International Competition was held in Jackson, Mississippi.  Although they performed after 9 p.m., it was so hot, five members collapse from the heat.  Charlie actually returned home with fire ant bites all over his forearms.  As they marched off the field, the girl in front of him was struggling.  As they broke rank and she began to collapse, Charlie dropped his horn to help her.  As his arms hit the ground he was attacked...


FOR MORE INFO.... Knights to Remember 


CONTINUED ... Life is Fragile Part 2



October 24, 2005