Friday, 01 March 2013
By Johna Ferguson
I can’t remember a lot about that day other than I was only five and I didn’t understand it completely until I was older. What I remember mostly were my aunts and uncles reactions: sudden grief that I had never seen before.
It all started out as one of those beautiful, ho, summer weekends at the beach so all the fathers were down from the city we three families lived in, about an hour away.
My father’s sister Daisy’s husband Frank, an engineer, was down to see his wife and boys, 10 and 12. My Uncle Glen and my dad, both doctors were down visiting their families and of course, my Uncle Earl and his family were the owners of all the land where they raised oysters so they were always there all summer.
I was out on the beach in front of our house looking for pretty rocks and my step sister and cousins were out on the oyster beds working. There were only the four summer cabins on a three-block-long narrow gravel spit and Aunt Daisy’s was down at the far end of the beach, almost a block away.
Suddenly in the quiet I heard an awful scream from that end of the beach and I looked up to see my father and his two brothers dash out of their houses towards the noise.
What should a curious child do but quickly follow them down the narrow path to Daisy’s house. She could hardly speak but one of her sons said they hadn’t heard from their father for awhile. He was doing some electrical wiring under the house when they last saw him so one son went to have a look and came out terrified, ran to tell his mother and his mother ran out screaming.
My three uncles said they would have a look and my father, being the youngest and ablest, went first.
All our houses were built three feet off the ground for the gravel bar was so narrow with the bay on one side and a creek that filled up when the tide was in, leaving them often standing in water.
Aunt Daisy’s house was on a sloping part of the bar so the back porch and bedrooms were on pilings meaning one could almost stand up under the back part of her house.
Uncle Frank was always so careful but seems he thought he had turned off the power and had mistakenly left it on. He was standing in a puddle of water left by the out going tide and obviously a wire he had hold of with his pliers touched a metal pipe and he electrocuted himself.
My father came out from under the house and yelled at me to run quickly and get his medical bag. I felt excited but didn’t really understand any of what was going on. My father and his doctor brother performed CPR until I arrived with his bag and he gave him a shot of adrenaline, but could not bring him around.
My father then sent me running again to get my mother and two aunts to help Daisy and her sons, all so shaken by the affair. Seems Uncle Frank had turned almost black when it happened and the one son was in absolute shock.
Uncle Earl took care of him while my dad and other doctor brother asked for a sheet and eventually brought out my Uncle Frank’s body.
There was only one phone, a business line for my Uncle Earl’s oyster farm, and he had run back up the beach to call the emergency fire department. Eventually they arrived with their truck and the firemen had to carry my uncle back on a stretcher as there was no road to that cabin.
My father and brothers laid my uncle in the back seat of our car and he drove my two uncles and the body into town behind the wailing fire truck while the women tried to console the family. My mother, trained in homeopathy, did what she could but eventually fell back on a stout brandy for Daisy and sips for the two sons.
It’s amazing, even as young as I was, that I can remember so many details about that day. How peaceful and quiet it was until that terrible scream, the shocked look on my cousin’s face as he told my father about what he found, the moaning from all assembled as the body was carried out and lastly, the wailing of the fire truck as it made it’s way out our beach road.
I remember my cousins peppering me with questions about it; what did the body look like. But as a young child I could only tell them my uncle had died under his house while working. Yet now, 77 years later, I can see it all in my mind’s eye.
All this was refreshed when at age 12, a line worker for the power company electrocuted himself while working on the telephone pole just outside our yard in the alley and fell to the ground just feet from where I had been standing watching them work. I twice learned a great lesson: never trust oneself around electricity; it is just too dangerous.
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