Stephenson Tales

A Deer Through the Window

One of the hazards encountered while driving in northwestern lower Michigan, especially in the evening and early morning, is that when the deer come out to forage one runs the risk of smashing into them on the highway as they dash madly across the road. Often one can see several ahead on the road at night as their eyes reflect the headlights. Being the social animals that they are, whenever one crosses the road in front of you, there is going to be another close behind.

One fall, we came up and had Thanksgiving with John and Claire. We had a red VW "bus" with a pop-up top that could be a sleeping area and had a double bed in the rear half of the cabin. It had two seats in the middle - one facing front the width of the car and a single seat back to back with the driver's single seat. For the space between the two front seats I made a small stool so Toni and Robbie could sit between Lucy Chase and me as we drove.

Returning to Ann Arbor from Interlochen we were on 115 and had just passed the intersection south of Cadillac, only about a mile from the place where we got our Thanksgiving dinner of pheasant many years earlier. The two children were in those little seats I had made for them. It was almost dark so they went back to the bed to lie down and nap as we drove south. They had just gotten settled in the back when Lucy Chase saw a deer running along the other side of the road. It was going the same direction that we were, and she said, "Look at the deer, children!"

She had no more than said those words than the deer veered across in front of us. It happened so fast I did not even see the deer coming from the left. The next thing I knew glass was splashing into the car and I looked over at Lucy Chase. She was sitting there with her hands up to her face, and upside down, legs straight up toward the ceiling of the car, was a deer about the size of a very large German shepherd dog. It had died immediately.

Slowly I eased the car off the road on the right and stopped. The people in the car behind us had seen what had happened and pulled off behind us. They came rushing up to see what they could do to help. The man came up as I opened the door on the passenger side where Lucy Chase had the deer in her lap. We grabbed the head and front legs of the deer and pulled it out onto the ground.

Lucy Chase was in obvious trouble. Blood was streaming down her face from innumerable cuts on her forehead and cheeks. The people from the car behind - a family of three - asked where we were headed and could they drive us anywhere. Lucy Chase, mopping at the dripping blood and shaking glass out of her hair told them that we were on our way to Ann Arbor. To our astonishment, they were going to Ann Arbor, too. When they found out that we were going to the home of Professor Preston Slosson (who was undoubtedly the most popular professor at Michigan - and, incidentally world famous), it was their turn to be astonished. They offered to drive the children to Preston's home in Ann Arbor while I took Lucy Chase to the hospital, which I knew to be on the south side of Cadillac. We were astounded at the generosity of their offer and agreed at once. We felt that they were instant "old friends."

So we got the children's luggage and toys out of the VW and loaded children and possessions into their car and they headed off toward Ann Arbor. Since we had not yet had dinner, (we learned later) they stopped at a restaurant so the children could eat! (Toni tells us that she was very scared about going off with these unknown people, but under the circumstances it seemed like the only thing to do.)

Just about that time the police arrived. These were the days before CB car radios and I do not know if they just happened upon us as they patrolled the highways or the police radio were told to come investigate. Lucy Chase told them the whole story. "You let your children go off with total strangers?!?" He was horrified, and assumed that we might never see them again! We just let him rave. He escorted us almost to the hospital with the wind blowing through where the windshield had been.

When we got there I pulled in to a lot and we ran up to a door that said, "Exit Only." I pounded on the door and a nurse down the hall turned around and motioned impatiently for us to go around the building. She turned away and I pounded on the door again. She turned back in a fury and came toward us. I pulled the blood-soaked towels from around Lucy Chase's head. Blood was still running in streams down her face. I could see the nurse gasp and she ran the rest of the way to the door and threw it open and took us at once to the ER. There were over a hundred shards of glass - some even in her eyelids. It took several hours to get them all cleaned out.

Now for the most remarkable part: Not only did the people who stopped know of Preston, of course, but on the way down to Ann Arbor as part of their conversation one of the children happened to mention "Lucy Chase." There was a gasp from the front seat. "Do you mean Lucy Chase STEPHENSON?" It turns out that Chay had had their son in a Cub Scout troop for which she had been "den mother." Small world, indeed!

The rest of the story is not so gripping. We went by the State Police Post to reassure the officer that these "strangers" had turned out not to be "strangers" at all, and that our children were in safe hands. The officer who had expressed such dire predictions was not there, but one of his fellows said he would deliver the message. They all seemed very blasé about it and obviously could not have cared less.

Finally we rented a car to go to Ann Arbor, called the Triple A to take the car for repair, and I went back to Traverse City the next week to bring it home. On the way back I did not see a single deer!

The people who had so kindly transported our children came by 2101 the following week to see if Lucy Chase was all right. Remarkable!

Composed 15-16 November 2008; Transcribed by Lucky

Lucky's Note: Mom, being Mom, was very upset that the collision had killed the deer, and told the policeman how badly she felt about that. He told her she was fortunate the deer died immediately because otherwise its hooves flailing in her face could have killed her! She hadn't realized the danger she'd been in. She was still sad for the deer, but had a new outlook on its quick death.

Toni's Note: Robbie and I used to travel in that VW bus by lying down on the folded down back seat under several old sleeping bag blankets (I think they had one silky side and the other side was flannel with some sort of lion safari print) because, as was true with all VW's, there was no heat in the back. Anyway, I remember Mom saying, "Look at the deer." We sat up just in time to see the back hoofs trying unsuccessfully to clear the front of the bus. The rearview mirror flew back and hit me in the head. Robbie and I slid forward along the seat/bed (what were seatbelts?) as we came to an abrupt halt. The deer was on its back on Mom's lap, kicking as it died. That deer was not dead instantly. Then, after the trauma of the accident, we were loaded up with strangers in the middle of 115 and drove away with them. Robbie and I were terrified and barely said two words the whole way south. Who but Mom and Dad would send their kids off with strangers, only to find out later that they did actually know each other and that everything would be fine?!

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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