In the end, 4 people died that night: Aunt Mary Lou, Grandma Mary Jane, the pregnant lady in the other car and her baby.The crazy thing is that of all the victims from the crash site, the ambulance drivers and even the staff at the hospital had pegged Mary Lou as the most likely to survive. She was alert, talking, even smiled at one point. From her, the Iowa State Patrol got the names of the passengers in her car and the first report of what had happened.
Uncle John and Grandpa Ray were the ones thought to be the most in danger that night. Interior photos of the car make one wonder how anyone could have been pulled from there in one piece, let alone alive.
Grandma Mary Jane was dead on the scene. The old style lap belts back then did only one thing; keep the body in the car. It did not however prevent you from being thrown forward and whipped back like a rag doll.
Which is exactly what happened to her, breaking her neck in the process.
The lap belt had wrecked havoc on Aunt Mary Lou as well, cutting across the midsection, rupturing within, causing internal bleeding. She made it as far as the hospital and had no sooner been brought in when she died.
Minutes away in a car being driven like a bat out of hell by his brother, Grandpa Lloyd, Mary Lou's Father, gave a loud, shuddering sigh.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, he told Uncle Jess;
"You can slow down now, Jess, she's gone."
In another car, my Mother was holding onto the thin thread that at least her sister had been spared. She already knew that her Mother had died but at least Mary Lou was still alive...
"What happened, Mary Lou?", Mom would later write,
"Why didn't you fight harder for life? Didn't you know your beloved father was only ten minutes away?"
"Didn't you know how much I needed you?"
Every family has that one person, the lynch pin, that live spark that moves the whole unit along year after year. This person is generally the glue that holds the whole works together.
Over the years, people had pointed to Grandpa Lloyd, Uncle Jess or Mom as being those bonding and engaging elements. But in the light of forty one years later, I would have to disagree.
That element had been Mary Lou.