Sunday, October 7, 2012

Survivor Day, October 4th, 1980 and a Second Chance at Life

     My life began again my third year in Alaska in 1980 when I was 31 years old. In the fall of 1979 after obtaining a job teaching Spanish and French to oversized high school classes of 40-45 students at Anchorage’s Bartlett High School, I bought my first Alaskan car.  It was  a brand new blue Honda Civic. Now it looks so plain, but then I thought it was a beauty.

My first road trip to Homer, Alaska, May 1980.
     When school let out for summer 1980 I landed a job teaching “American History to the Civil War” at Fort Richardson Army Base. The Texas college extension class was composed of all males. Now this should have made a 30 something woman joyful, but not being a great orator of American History, it simply added to my discomfort. However, the job allowed me to make additional payments on my new car and by the fall it was close to paid off in less than a year. Teachers in the Anchorage School District back then were the second highest paid in the country next to Connecticut and that suited me to a tee.

      With fall I started a new job teaching just Spanish at West High. This was quite an improvement after trying to teach French the year before with only two French classes from Tulsa Junior College. I didn’t have a clue how to speak French, not even how to say “do you speak French?” in French; but the Anchorage School District was desperate for teachers and I wanted a good paying job and that it was. I would listen to tapes each night before the next day’s teaching assignment. It was the days in Alaska when anybody with any sense and connections was working on the slope and the pipeline making the really big bucks, but I was teaching.

      Sunday October 4th, 1980, (two days after paying off my Honda at Credit Union One) and preparing my lesson plans for the coming week of teaching Spanish at West High, I was off to pick up my sometime boyfriend, Joe Smith, from McLaughlin Youth Center. Joe worked there as a counselor. Back in Oklahoma in the spring of 1978 Joe Smith convinced me that Alaska was the promise land. Since I always wanted to come here to begin with, because of the cool weather and adventure, I was easily convinced and flew into Anchorage in August 1978.
     On my trip to McLaughlin to pick up Joe Smith from work that fall day, October 4th, 1980 about 4 p.m. I was hit by a Gary Alberts driving with his family south on C Street. He ran a red light crossing 36th and blindsided me on the driver‘s side. Fortunately I was NOT wearing a seat belt or I would have been killed. I was thrown to the passenger side.

The most annoying thing was  I was ticketed! By the Grace of God/Creator however I had witnesses that Gary Albert had ran a red light. My witnesses were Pentecostal evangelist missionaries that drove around the country in a big bus.  They lived near Abbott Rd. and Lake Otis. Raymond House and his wife Jan believed divorce was Biblically wrong and akin to adultery. They tried unsuccessfully to convince me to reunite with my first husband in Oklahoma. We had just got divorce the summer of 1979 on my way home to Alaska after a 2 month trip to Spain.  I was "hired" by the organizer to help chaperon high schoolers and make sure they didn’t drink too much wine.   There was no age limitations there and wine was served with every meal at the school, maybe because it was safer to drink than the water.

 The reconciliation never happened and my ex husband I would not see one another until October 2011, 32 years later. Eventually I got an out of court monetary settlement from the accident and used it to pay off my two land investments. However, the unjust ticket has always been a thorn in my side. What was the cop thinking? Was he partial to the other party because they had a pack of kids? But that was just the tip of my problematic iceberg. I was severely injured eternally and lucky to be alive and suffered from PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder due to the wreck that haunts me til this day.
My sister flew into Alaska shortly after my accident thinking I was a goner. When I saw her standing there in my room at Providence it literally brought me back to life. Dr. Frederick Hood told Angie by phone “that my lungs had collapsed and they didn’t expect me to make it much longer.” She arranged with the bank she worked at to borrow the money she needed to come to Alaska, a $1,000! She booked a flight that night for the next day for a week vacation!” She told me she “remembered riding the bus around Anchorage for a poor women’s tour and something to do between visits to the ICU for 15 minutes ever 2 or 3 hours. Doctor Hood, a graduate of Oklahoma University Medical School, told Angie that “it was a miracle I turned around as I did. When she arrived he told her if I made it at all, I would be in hospital at least 6 - 8 weeks.” It was three and a half. She made all the difference.

I was released in late October in time to vote in the Presidential Election. I walked the 3 or 4 blocks to Northwood Elementary on my crutches. A school where I had worked 2 years earlier as a bilingual tutor. My vote didn’t do any good. Yes I voted against President Reagan and he won anyway. Never really liked Reagan knowing he was for the rich. Also I had a high school boyfriend whose stepfather was a big campaign manager of Reagan’s in California before Reagan hit the big time. My boyfriend was physically abused by his stepfather, Reagan‘s campaign manager to the point of being put in the hospital due to injuries several times in Spain. As my Grandfather Robert use to say, “birds of a feather flock together.”

After being released from Providence Hospital I was advised to wait until second semester to return to teaching. However, I was so grateful to be alive and eager to get on with my life to the fullest again that I went back to work teaching Spanish at West High in December. In retrospect it would have been best to postpone going back to work.

In December 1980 I flew my sister back from Oklahoma for my Christmas vacation. I still have the snow covered Christmas tree I brought for her visit and use it from time to time when the Spirit moves me.  My sister, Joe and I must have went to Chilkoots every night she was here to the point I ordered a cup of coffee there one evening. Of course that New Year’s Eve was the grand finale. It was my “survival revival.” Angie, Joe Smith and I went early and stayed late, and late it was. Back then the bars didn’t close until the Ungodly hour of five in the morning.

These days my sister has long since quite drinking, Joe Smith has returned to Oklahoma and although I still drink a bit more than I probably should, it is not usually at bars. That New Year’s Eve was probably one of my last one out on the town. After that I always considered New Year’s Eve, “amateur night” and prefer to stay home and remember when I didn‘t and was glad to just be alive.

Mary Alta Buckingham -
October 4th, 2010 - 30th Anniversary Survival
Revised October 7th 2012

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