We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to feature this moving account from one of our readers.
To read Part I of this story, featured yesterday, click here. Again, many thanks to Janie Hensley.
By Janie White Hensley
When someone finally pulled me out of all the debris I refused to leave until I saw my parents. Because we lived reasonably close to the coliseum, there were many nearby people who came to help who were friends and neighbors. It was one such family friend who finally convinced me to go to the hospital with the promise that she would tell my parents where I’d gone. As a naive 13-year old I would tell you that when I arrived at Methodist Hospital they put a “shipping tag” on my wrist and wrote a bunch of information on it. I now know that it was a triage tag, but let’s face it I was only 13. Amazing to me now, the same family friend came to the hospital, and after seven stitches in my head, took me out of the hospital and home with her.
A lot of what I know now about that night is a mixture of experience and research. Evidently, ministers and family doctors went to the coliseum to help, and to identify those who had died. At 7am the next morning, the minister from our church, Rev. John Abernathy, came to tell me that my parents had died. It was our family doctor, Dr. Hugh Thatcher, who identified them. When Dr. Thatcher came to see me later in the morning, he asked if I had any questions. I only had one: Had my parents died instantly? To my relief they had.
My Mother must have had some premonition, foresight, or whatever you choose to call it that an incident like this was possible. Throughout my growing up years Mother would just suddenly stop and ask: “What do you do if your father and I are in an accident?” My sister and I both knew what to do, who to contact and what my Mother’s wishes were. The strangest part is to realize the odds of my parents being in an accident together were very, very slim—or so you think.
But on the morning after the explosion, I knew who to call and what to do. My sister was away at college and had to come back to Indianapolis from Sterling, Kansas. Unfortunately, the way she learned what had happened was not as gentle as mine, but the effect was the same. In that moment in time, we were forced to grow up very fast. We understood better than most that no one is immortal, and we had to make the best of what we had left. We learned very quickly to pick up our lives and go on. It’s not easy, but we moved forward in faith.
I’ve been asked about my emotions from that night and the days that followed. I summarize it in one word—numb. It wasn’t until later—and some of it I still struggle with—that the reality of that night was truly felt. As I grew up I understood more fully what I had lost. Yet, my sister and I were very lucky; we had a good family and a wonderful group of neighbors and friends to support us.
I had to move from Indianapolis to Richmond, VA to live with my aunt and uncle and after a year, my uncle was transferred to Chicago, IL. I came back to Indianapolis to attend Tudor Hall as a Junior and Senior in High School, graduating in 1969. I was in one of the last classes to graduate from Tudor Hall before it became Park-Tudor. After graduating from Tudor, I went to North Carolina to school for a while, then back to Indianapolis to attend Central Business College. I got married and we moved to Tennessee. I have now lived just about all my adult life in Tennessee.
I love living in Tennessee, at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains– the people, the weather and just how beautiful it is here. I have raised two beautiful and wonderful girls (and of course I’m not at all prejudiced) as a single parent. I’ve struggled and worked hard over the years. I didn’t think that I missed anything about Indianapolis, until….
…The Tudor Hall Class Reunion. And during the trip, I went back to see the old family home, our church, some of my favorite places in Indianapolis, and I went to see the plaque at the coliseum. I couldn’t bring myself to go any farther than the hall where the plaque is, but I did make it that far.
I realized that even though I love Tennessee, Indianapolis is my home. The schools, the church, and the people I knew–both living and dead– the racetrack, the museums, and the history, these are all home to me. How delightful to find upon my homecoming, that the little court I grew up on was made a historic neighborhood! Visiting Central Court pulled me back to easier, simpler times and memories – good and not so good. I’ve thought a lot about memories and what it was like to be a kid in Indianapolis in the 1950s and 1960s. I have even started putting what I remember down in a journal.
Do you remember your own childhood, family and history? You need to share it with someone. Write it down. You never know: your children, grandchildren, or great-great grandchildren might be interested in how you lived, how you defined your life and what made you who you are. And love your parents and children with all your heart every day, because you just never know…