I should not be alive writing this. Let me start right there. How many people do you know who have survived getting hit by a 20,000 pound school bus, no less at the age of seven? I not only survived, but I had no broken bones and no permanent physical damage, (though over the years my wife and I have had some serious debates over my mental stability). This story could have perhaps been my very first blog story, but I’ve been putting it off. I don’t know why, but I think I wanted to make sure I had a lot of fun stories written first. I am continuing to be open and honest in my posts, but I hoped to make you laugh and to make you feel a bit nostalgic for your own past. I didn’t think too many of my readers would associate with getting hit by a bus as a child, so I just did not want to begin there. I have mentioned it however several times so now it’s time to share this memory which is one of my most pivotal events.
The date was March 8, 1966 – I was 7 years old, almost 8 and in second grade, Mrs. Vaughn’s class. Lyndon Johnson was President of the US, the war in Viet Nam was heating up with about 150,000 deployed troops and the first Peanuts special aired on TV back on Dec 9 – A Charlie Brown Christmas. I lived on Goodman Avenue in Hamilton and was a walker to and from school, Fillmore Elementary. I lived only 4 city blocks from school, less than 1/2 a mile and every day since kindergarten, I walked to and from school with my best friend, Timmy Apwisch who lived right across the street from me.
Only a couple of months earlier a little girl, (Kim Stuart), had gotten killed by a driver right at the very last intersection before the school and in the walking path for all back door walkers. I remember the weather being nice this day, no jacket. Our path was simple – we left the school every day via the rear exit, walked up the concrete pathway that led to the small entrance which was cut through the small concrete barrier that bordered the rear of the school and then up Kenworth Avenue.
Kenworth ran north to south with the north end being at the school. I lived on the east side of Kenworth and so almost always we would leave the school to cross Western Avenue on the east side. For the past few days however, Tim and I had been walking on the west side of Kenworth so we could walk down the street until Goodman with another little boy, Terry Staton (who will one day have an entire story) because he lived on the west side of Franklin St. In hindsight I can see that this is a more dangerous walk than staying on the east side because when we crossed Goodman we would not have the benefit of a crossing guard like we did when crossing Western Ave (which could be very busy).
On this day, Terry and I were playfully leaning into each other, lightly pushing each other a couple of feet off of the sidewalk. We had passed Azel Ave. and just crossed Ross Ave, beyond the corner grocery store, Payne’s. Goodman was the next intersection and would be less than a block from home. Terry had leaned into me a little harder than he had been earlier and it caused me to step maybe a couple feet into the street. We were walking southward and when this happened, in my mind I was thinking – well, I have to cross the street soon anyway. So I didn’t resist Terry’s shove like I had been.
Fortunately for me, a car wasn’t traveling southward at that very moment because for certain, I would have been directly run over, no question. Given the harder shove and my lack of resistance, there I was drifting across the street in slow motion. I didn’t even see the bus strike me. It was traveling northward and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground and I could see my leg all split open. Yes, I could see the bone. My guess is that my leg was ripped open either by a wheel or bumper and perhaps I was knocked backwards versus being pulled under.
It’s funny how the survival mode can kick in because as I was lying in the street, the one thought that was going through my head was – I better get out of the street or I might get run over. Duh – I was already hit, ya dork! So I dragged myself on my butt with my injured leg extended, back across the wide part of the street to where I started. I didn’t really take notice of the cars but I suppose that all traffic had stopped. I was only concerned with not getting run over again.
Everything about this event is still as vivid as if it occurred just yesterday. After dragging myself across the street, I looked up at my friend Timmy and said – “Tim, go get Mom!” Next I saw my friend take off flying. My mom’s account of this part was that she was down in the basement doing some laundry. She heard Tim upstairs having burst into the house, yelling Mrs. Wyatt, Mrs. Wyatt- Robbie got hit by a bus! As a parent, can you just imagine what you would have felt after hearing this?
Here’s a comment from my childhood friend, Tim:
The next thing I have memory of is a short ambulance drive to the hospital. It was only about 3/4 of a mile away from the accident site. I’m not sure why I didn’t at least bleed to death but I didn’t and I was awake and lucid all throughout the ambulance ride and all the way into surgery prep. I remember being on a gurney and wheeled into a surgery prep room (I am supposing). It’s funny the things we remember, but what I remember next was their taking a big pair of scissors and cutting my brand new belt off. Excuse me? I’m only a 7 year old – is it really that difficult to slip off a belt? The nurse must have been speaking to me, or maybe not, but I vividly remember asking, “am I going to die?” And that’s the last I remember until waking up in a room with 3 other kids, 4 beds in one room.
At this point let’s do a little sidebar on the journalism here. The picture here is of the article that appeared in the newspaper the very next day. Third grade? I was in second. Pushed against a bus? I was pushed into the street and then hit by it. Left leg? It was my right. Severe cut? That’s putting it pretty mildly. I could see my bone as it was all butter-flied open. I took 80 stitches inside and out. Yeah, I guess that’s severe. Oh well, at least they got my name correct – isn’t that the most important part of stardom?
If I remember correctly, I spent 8 days in the hospital. On the second or third day, a Candy Striper brought me a small erector toy set as a gift from the Ruth Lyons Children’s Fund. Ruth was a local Cincinnati celebrity who had a daytime local talk show for years. She had prospered and this was one way she gave back to the community.
At home I scooted around from my room to the kitchen, bathroom or living room on my rear end. My teacher, Mrs. Vaughn brought me homework about every 2-3 days so I could stay up with the class. I have a very strong memory of seeing her for the first time as she walked into my bedroom. She wore dark rimmed eye glasses and had a short cropped haircut, parted in the middle and a little less than shoulder length. She had a ‘mom body’, the type of body that I guess most would call overweight but was nice and cushy for hugging. I remember her favorite ensemble for school being a plaid skirt and dark hose, the kind that keep the legs warm.
I was a really good student, so keeping up with the class was actually the easy part of all of this (and it should be noted that I likely could still keep up with a second grader!). I don’t remember exactly but I think I missed a total of 8 weeks of school. Not too long after getting sent home, I had to be taken to the hospital for physical therapy. I remember every day a therapist would lie me down on a table and would bend my leg as far as they could, stretching it further and further with each visit until I finally regained full flexibility.
When at the house, at some point they must have told my parents that I should already be up on my feet. I don’t have a sense for how many weeks after the accident this was. All I remember is that I was afraid to get up on my legs. I don’t know how many weeks I stayed on my butt, but I do remember very well that first time I got brave enough to walk again. I had been in my bedroom playing something with either one of my brothers or with my friend Tim. I decided to give it a try so I scooted over to the bed and got up on the bed and then stood. I was walking – a little shaky, but walking.
Speaking of being shaky, once I remember my mom taking me downtown; for shopping I suppose. We had parked on the side of the street in front of the Courthouse. We walked down to the corner and then had to cross the street, headed towards Elder Beerman, the primary department store in downtown Hamilton. Talk about shaky – I remember reaching out to hold my mom’s hand. I was walking quickly, holding her hand, trying to drag her across the street a little faster and looking down the street, watching the approaching traffic make its way up to the crossing light.
I am guessing at the timing for my first day back at school. The accident happened on March 8th, I think I missed 8 weeks and I don’t remember spending very much time then at school after going back so let’s say I went back around the middle of May. So I only was back at school a month before school ended. I remember that my mom drove me on my first day back. Perhaps we had to do a check-in or something because I remember coming in late. Class was already in session. I remember being well liked in my elementary classes and I really loved so many of my classmates. Fillmore Elementary was really a special place in the 60’s.
When I walked in, the entire class stood up and began clapping! I actually got my one and only standing ovation. I was a little embarrassed, but mostly I was happy. I felt “loved” I guess is the best way to describe it. I remember making eye contact with my little girlfriend Tammy (read me). She had a huge smile on her face and I didn’t understand what I felt – gratitude maybe, I was only 8, but I remember looking for her specifically. Both of our birthdays had passed while I was out.
As I sit here thinking about this, trying to see things from the eyes of my classmates….a couple of months earlier we had lost a second grader who had gotten dragged about a 100 feet by a speeding car, not a block away from the school. So here was another student who had gotten struck by a school bus, was out for many weeks and now was able to walk into the classroom looking like nothing had occurred. Looking at this from that angle, I can see that I would feel very glad to watch my classmate come back to school too (either that or perhaps I owed them all money?).
I honestly remember nothing but happy times while at Fillmore and despite almost dying, the times I had there with my childhood friends remains to be some of my fondest memories. It’s been almost 50 years since my Fillmore days and still when I think about the names of several childhood friends, I can still see their childhood faces, I feel warm inside about my time with them and I feel, well I guess what I feel is love inside. Tim , Tammy , Rick , Kathy , Cindy and Mike (RIP) – thinking about each of them still makes me feel warm (several are featured in upcoming stories).
This is the single most traumatic event in my life – it is also one of the events that have helped mold my outlook towards the positive. There are a couple of other events that could have killed or maimed me – dangerous blood clotting after a surgery, getting hit head-on by a drunk driver, sliding 300 yards on ice and crashing into a car and breaking my leg at the knee from stepping into a pothole during a ball game where I bent my leg backwards, just to name a few.
I don’t know why I’m still here. Who gets hit at 7 years of age by a school bus and doesn’t die or come out of it disfigured? Maybe it’s all luck of the draw. I don’t know, but what I do know is that this event and the others, although painful at the time, have caused me to embrace a very positive outlook in life. We all live, we all have pains and trauma, and we all die. These are truths. I am not a sage. I’m not a genius; I don’t have the answers. Hell, I don’t even know the questions. What I do believe though is that when it’s time for each of us to leave this life, all that we get to take with us are our loves and our memories. I’m doing the best that I can to hold onto my loves, to make more memories and to share what I remember with you here. I’m still standing and plan to keep on standing….until that next school bus comes along.