Lost Like Summer Wages by
(8 Stories)

Prompted By My First Car

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By Walter Nicklin

I had worked most of the summer on the horse farms that defined that part of rural Virginia where I grew up — making hay in June and painting fences in July.  Finally, in August, I had saved enough to buy the sportscar of my dreams, a used MGA.  The year was 1962, the last year that MG made this particular model.  Mine was from the late 1950s and cost about $500, if I remember right.

I had no idea, of course, that within a couple of weeks the car’s driver would almost kill me.

It was Labor Day Weekend — or better known in this part of Virginia as the weekend of the Warrenton Horse Show, established in 1899.  Would the girls in their sexy jodhpurs like me more because of my sexy car?  That must have been my assumption.

One of the girls was having a party that night, at her family’s estate near Middleburg, 20 or so miles away on a twisty country road.  As my friends, Larry and Jimmy, piled in the MG, it began to drizzle, just enough to make the road slick.

I may well have been driving too fast — or was it the beer I had consumed? —  when the car went into a skid around a curve.  The steering was tight, and I probably overcompensated in turning the wheels the other way.  The car began to fishtail; I lost control; it hit the ditch on the right side of the road and went airborne and flipped over.

None of us was wearing a seatbelt. Larry was hurled to the left side of the road, Jimmy to the right.  The steering wheel apparently kept me in the car as it rolled over and my torso flopped into seat where Larry and Jimmy had been sitting.  Had they stayed in the car, I would have likely been decapitated.  As it was, we all suffered severe lacerations, and Jimmy, landing on a fence post, broke his jaw.

The family in a nearby farmhouse heard the crash, and called the ambulance. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctor on call in the ER was — wait for it! — my father.  After attending to Larry and Jimmy, I could see my father walking toward me still lying on the gurney.  Doctors are normally not supposed to operate on family members, so he asked me:

“Do you mind if I sew you up?”

He didn’t show any anger.  He didn’t have to.  Only later, that Christmas, he gave me a photo that the auto insurance company had taken of what remained of my MG, mangled, a total wreck.  It was a wordless transaction; he didn’t have to say anything.  But these words somehow I do have now in my head from an Ian and Sylvia song around that time:

….Gambled and lost like summer wages.


Characterizations: well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Jeez, Walter, this story gave me flashbacks to “Red Asphalt” and all those other gory car-crash films they used to show us in Driver’s Ed. What a haunting account. I’m glad you and your friends survived (relatively) intact.

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