A Strange Phone Call
On December 12, 2013, I received a strange phone call. The gentleman on the other end of the line began by asking for me by name, and then requested that I not hang up on him until he had a chance to complete his story. I have to admit I was wondering what kind of telemarketer I was up against, but I let him have his say, as I could sense this was important to him and he seemed anxious that I might think he was some kind of quack. He started his story by telling me he was a police officer with the RCMP, and in 1960 he was stationed in Ituna, Sask.
I quickly pointed out that I was born in Ituna in 1960. He responded, “Yes, I know, I was the police officer on scene at the accident that killed your mother and older brother.” An awkwardly long silence followed as I processed what he’d said and thought about how to respond. He continued to tell me that his wife may have been the first face I saw as I was born.
I have always told people that my mother died before I was born. The reality of this is questionable, as the details were guarded to protect everyone involved—not only the adults who didn’t want to talk about it but also the children whose lives were forever changed by this horrible accident.
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A Devastating Accident
On February 7, 1960, the day I was born, my mother (who was pregnant with me), and my older brother and sister were on their way home from church, where they had attended a going-away party for the local doctor who was returning to Ireland. While crossing the railway tracks, their car was struck by a fast-moving freight train on the CN main line running through our small town. News of the tragic accident travelled quickly, and the RCMP, the exiting doctor and the new replacement doctor were quickly notified and brought into action.
The RCMP officer (the one on the phone with me now) was the only one in our community and he arrived on scene to find a devastating accident involving a family he knew well. His wife and my mother worked together. Searching the area, he first found my brother Larry, who had been ejected from the vehicle. He tried to resuscitate him, but my brother could not be saved and died at the scene. My sister Debbie was also ejected; she was lying in a snowdrift and had suffered head injuries. My mother was still in what was left of the car; she was badly hurt with severe head injuries and the officer, being a friend of the family, knew she was pregnant.
It was a cold February day, and this young, 26-year-old RCMP officer was left to deal with this tragic accident involving a family he knew well, trying his best to save who he could while dealing with onlookers and the train crew. The train itself had taken half a mile to stop and the crew had to walk back to the scene. In addition, as the train was on the CN main line, a line with only one set of tracks, the train had to move or risk another collision with another rapidly approaching locomotive. As if all of that wasn’t enough, there was no ambulance available and a station wagon had to be quickly put into service so that my mother and sister could be taken to the local hospital. Frankly, I don’t know how he handled it all, but he did.
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A Small Town Springing Into Action
Ituna was a small town, but it was still a major centre, with a train station, post office, banks and a hospital. As I mentioned, my mother and the wife of the police officer were both nurses at the hospital and were friends. Now this coworker and friend was in surgery trying to save my mother. Unfortunately, the harsh realities soon made it obvious that there was no hope to save my mother; her head injuries were too severe. As she was six months pregnant, the next question became, could they save the baby? After consultation with multiple doctors both present and over the phone, the decision to take the baby by Caesarean section was made. That baby of course was me. The doctors were unsure as to what injuries I had sustained in the accident, but they had nothing to lose. Extraordinary measures were taken that day by many people to save my life, that of a very premature baby who weighed approximately two pounds.
Thankfully, my injuries were not too severe and it was mostly because I was three months premature that I spent the next six months of my life in an incubator before I was finally released from hospital.
A Family Secret Revealed
Fast-forward to today. I have had an interesting life, one allowing me to tinker, repair or design anything I can think of as a heavy-duty mechanic and homegrown machinist. Some might also say I’ve made a few questionable choices, including the time I owned and flew an ultra-light airplane—at least that was a questionable decision according to my wife! I married young and have four grown children and one granddaughter.
Then, suddenly, on a day just like any other, I get a call from out of the blue taking me back to February 7, 1960, from someone whose life was also deeply impacted on that day. Fifty-three years after the fact, a retired RCMP officer in his 80s calls me and asks, what ever happened to that baby so many years ago?
That police officer’s name is Tony. He and I now call each other on a regular basis and he has even made the trip from Saskatoon to High River, Alta., to pay me a visit. Throughout my life I was considered a miracle child, but the details of the accident and of my birth were kept from me in an attempt to protect me. Receiving this phone call 53 years after the fact, I realized that this man could not shake the horrific accident he’d witnessed as a young RCMP officer so many years earlier, and he needed to know what had happened to that baby.
I am very happy that Tony reached out to me so many years later and only wish he had done so sooner, as his wife had passed away ten years earlier. I would have liked to have had a chance to thank her personally for her efforts on that day and ask her about my mother.
Regardless, this former constable has helped to fill in many of the blanks about the day I was born, helping me understand what everyone present on that day went through and more of why my family did not want to discuss it. Having said that, in those 53-odd years since then, I have often thought about how my life would have been had the accident not occurred on that day. I have to say life has been good to me, but ever since Tony called me on that December day, I have often wondered what might not have been without people like him, his wife and those doctors present on that day. People who did their best in the most difficult of situations trying to save a young mother and her children and having to make some hard choices. Because of their actions, I was given a chance to live the rest of my life, and for that I will be forever grateful to Tony and everyone else who was there.