The summer of my fifteenth year, Dad received a terrible phone call. A boy named Bruce had died in a terrible manner. Bruce was the second oldest of 4 kids in a family that my family knew pretty well. The oldest boy, Tony, was a year older than my brother and they were very good friends. Tony and Bruce both played on my Dad's Little League teams. There was another boy just one year older than me that I always had a crush on and the youngest was a girl that was a year younger than me that I played with on occasion. I once went to White Lake with their family and another time, my brother and I went together to their house to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" because they had color TV and we didn't.
We were living in Durham, N.C. at the time and had been there for almost three years. My parents had split up that spring and my brother was in the Air Force, so it was just the two of us. Dad was broken hearted and not really one for funerals, but he knew this was one that he must attend. We called Granny to say we were coming down to visit and packed up our stuff and headed "back home."
Growing up in our small communty in the country outside of Goldsboro, many kids spent their summers working on harvesters in the tobacco fields. Bruce had finished up a day of that and was in a tobacco barn with his older brother and a few other guys when he leaned back and placed his hand on a large metal tobacco curing fan. This fan was not properly grounded and Bruce was soaked with sweat. He was, at the age of seventeen, electrocuted to death.
After Dad and I arrived at Granny's house, I realized I had forgotten my shoes. The morning of the funeral, I mean. Granny had teeny tiny feet and suggested that my aunt down the street might have some shoes that would work. My aunt, who was a pretty bulky lady at the time also had remarkably small feet for her size, but she had one pair of bright yellow heels that matched my skirt. They were about one size too small. They were a 6 and I wore a 7. I put them on, we got in the car and solemnly drove across town to the funeral home.
When we got there on that very hot summer day, the funeral home was packed and it was standing room only. There was no AC and the doors were open. People recognizing Dad made way for us to move forward, but we still had to stand. As the service started, I was standing just behind Dad's right shoulder and kept my left hand on his shoulder, trying to soothe him.
The shoes were too tight, my knees were probably locked, it was very very hot and the place was packed. I started to feel woozy. I kept patting Dad's shoulder. And then, after blinking a lot and trying to "shake it off, " I just collapsed. I did not fall down, because it was standing room only. Dad told me later that my hand on his shoulder suddenly felt wrong and he turned around and saw me fainting and caught me along with the folks around me.
I never went completely unconscious but was blind and deaf. I could feel people moving me and it was like I was in a big black bowl of Jello. I thought for sure I had a brain tumor. The next thing I remember was that I was sitting down and people were talking to me through a very long garden hose. I actually thought, "Why are they talking to me through a garden hose?" Over time the words became more clear and my vision started to return. Bruce's mother was somehow in charge of taking care of me and I was mortified. I realized I was on the front porch and her son's body was inside. I felt awful. I found out later that she worked in a hospital and had training for that sort of thing.
I convinced everyone to get back to the funeral and they had me stay out on the porch bench with a cool compress on my head. I felt horrible for ruining everything and when Dad and I left, I cried and apologized the whole time.
Four years later, my brother was home from the Air Force and we were invited to Tony's house for a cookout. We drove down and had a good time. I don't remember a lot of it. I don't even remember owning that shirt:
But I will always remember one big thing. Tony (the one with the beard) said to me: I'll never forget when you fainted at Bruce's funeral. I think you saved my mother that day. I could tell Mom was about to lose it and when you fainted, her training kicked in and she was back into "Mom Mode." I know that taking care of you that day kept her from completely breaking down.
Fainting is never pleasant, but I'm really glad I fainted that day.