Thursday March 21, 1974
Livia Sdraulig - born February 3, 1940
Sandra Sdraulig - born November 1, 1960
Linda Sdraulig - born January 2, 1964
The Sdraulig family along with a friend of the family (Jenny), embarked on a car trip. Destination: Rochester, Minnesota where Ron (11 years old) had a follow-up appointment for his Hodgkins Disease.
Ron had been battling cancer since the age of 9. Mom had discovered a goose egg sized lump on Ron's neck on Christmas Eve, 1972. And so the trips to Rochester's Mayo Clinic began. If it was a check-up and school schedules permitted, we all went - as a sort of family vacation. I was pretty oblivious to everything that Ron was going through. I only understood that I was pretty unhappy with all the substitute care-givers we had at home while Mom and Ron were tending to his health some 340 miles away. My grandparents picked up some of the slack, so did Aunt Lillian, family friends and paid homemakers. In the beginning they were gone often and for long periods of time.
So it was that during the last few days of the school March break that we headed out. Mom had intended to leave early in the morning, but it was closer to one pm before we left. And then we had a few in-town errands to run.
I remember stopping at a Perkins Restaurant for supper (probably in Duluth) and calling my grandmother from a downstairs pay phone. Shortly thereafter we stopped for gas and got treated to licorice to snack on during the ride ahead. We intended to stop and spend the night at Aunt Vicki and Uncle Egi's house in the suburb of Minneapolis.
We were southbound on Interstate 35, a divided highway, not far from Hinckley, Minnesota. It was 8:55 pm when we were struck from behind by a transport truck hauling Geno's Frozen Foods.
The 18-wheeler drove up onto the trunk of our dwarfed Pontiac sedan and pushed us approximately 80 feet down the road until we reached the Grindstone River overpass.
From there the vehicles separated. Our car was propelled another 50 feet or so in the air and came to rest on its' roof on the opposite side of the river 15 feet below the roadway. The truck came to a rest against the guard rail of the northbound lanes jack-knifed with the cab facing northward.
It is presumed that the gas tank caught fire from the sparks created as it scrapped along the road. The rear of the car was fully engulfed when it finally came to a rest. Mom was telling us not to breath. Linda cried for help and said she was scared. I didn't hear Sandra and I believe that she was thrown clear or died on impact.
Ron crawled out of the car on his own power when he realized that the lower half of his body was protruding from the car. I felt a tugging on my sock so I followed that way out. Ron with no thought to his own safety saved my life. We couldn't see into the car to find others as the fire had intensified and flames obscured my escape route. Ron and I wordlessly stumbled in a daze up the embankment; we stopped briefly and looked back at the car. We were on our way back to get others when the State Patrol Officers arrived and stopped us. We were whisked into a patrol car and began speeding down the highway to the closest hospital. It was as I sat in the back seat of that cruiser that I first felt pain and fear. Ron was in the front seat and he said "Pray for Mom to be safe". I tried to put my hands together to comply but my hands hurt too much to put them together. I cried as I prayed.
A call came over the police radio that a woman had gotten out...we had high hopes and prayed harder...but it was Jenny.
I remember the first hospital. My mom's watch that I had been wearing was removed, my clothes were cut off and I begged to have my sweatshirt saved. And then an ambulance drive, destination unknown. I don't know how much time had passed when I next opened my eyes and noticed a blurred figure perched on the edge of my bed. It was Ron and we wondered where everyone else was. We prayed together again. We prayed that they were at another hospital. Maybe they were too seriously injured to make the transfer and were still at the first hospital.
My bed had moved further away from the nurses' station when I got the "You're a big girl" talk from my Uncle Egi (Mom's brother) Mom had died and so had Sandra and Linda. He left me alone and I cried, the pain in my heart overshadowing the pain from the burns I had suffered. Why? Why did God allow this to happen? I felt so alone.
I found comfort and solace in my thoughts and through my faith I found an answer for "Why?". My mom died because she missed my Dad. They were so in love and had so little time together so she went to be with him. Sandra died because she was the first born and you know how parents are about their first born...Dad wanted her with him. And Linda, she died because she was only a month old when Dad died and he wanted to get to know his baby girl better. Ron only suffered minor burns on his ears because he was rewarded for saving me and he already had enough on his plate, dealing with cancer.
Besides, I wasn't alone. I had Ron.
I spent about 2 1/2 months in Miller-Dwan Hospitals Burn Unit in Duluth, Minnesota. Then I returned to live with "strangers" (my grandparents) who had taken over my Mom's house and were trying to raise me. They didn't belong there and I resented their presence and let them know it. I was a changed person and I wasn't happy about any of it.
Just because I knew "Why" didn't mean I had to like it.
It is amazing how much you remember and stays with you. How many trips we took to Rochester and this one...I remember so much. Songs on the radio we sang along to, places we stopped, the smells, sounds, the sights, the pain, the words spoken and the words left unsaid....
Left behind were:
- Elizabeth Giselle Sdraulig, daughter and sister, age 12 years
- Ronald Anthony Sdraulig, son and brother, age 11 years