This will be Bertha Stevens’ 85th Christmas. My grandmother owes the last 39 of them to a pile of Christmas trees.
The event took place the day before Thanksgiving in 1964. My grandparents had planned to drive into the mountains of New Mexico, pick up a load of Christmas trees, and bring them home to Muleshoe to sell in their used-furniture store.
They drove to a tree farm near Las Vegas, N.M., and piled their pickup high with trees. Then they headed for Santa Rosa, where they had planned to spend the night.
“But we didn’t plan to spend it in the hospital,” Grandmother Stevens said.
Her story goes like this:
“We left the tree orchard, or whatever you call it, and drove until it was nearly dark,” she said. “Then Butler (Granddad Stevens) got out and looked to see if our taillights were burning and to make sure the trees were not covering them up. They were fine.
“Then, just after the sun went down, this car came up behind us. It was going pretty fast. Instead of going on around us, it hit the corner of our truck. When it did, Butler said ‘Well, I can’t hold it; we’re going over.’ And we did. We went over four times and landed on the wheels. As we were going over, I could feel myself hitting each side of the truck. I felt like I was in a barrel.”
As it rolled, a door to the pickup flew open. My grandmother said she can’t remember being thrown from the vehicle and she doesn’t remember the trees leaving the bed of the pickup.
“All I know is when I woke up, I was lying in the middle of all those Christmas trees,” she said.
Several drivers stopped to help after the accident, including the man whose vehicle had collided with the pickup. He said he didn’t see the taillights.
My granddad suffered a cut on his head, but was not seriously injured. My grandmother was taken to a hospital in Santa Rosa.
“They said I had a cracked shoulder,” she said. “I was black from head to toe. I was bruised all over.”
The landing was so rough, pine needles from the trees were embedded in her skin. She spent 17 days in the hospital. We don’t like to think about what would have happened if her landing had not been cushioned by the Christmas trees.
“When they examined me … the doctor said, ‘Well, you’re lucky. Those Christmas trees are what saved your life,’” my grandmother said. “And I guess they did.”
I don’t remember much about the Christmas of 1964. I had just turned 5. But I do remember being thankful for Christmas trees.
My grandmother was too.
David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be contacted at 1-800-819-9925. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org