An Unquenchable Spirit
Short biographical true story on Mack Albert Pitts’ Mother, Hazel, her inspirational life, unique determination and strength of spirit, by Mack Albert Pitts.
First, I must give some context to understand my mother. She was handicapped and raised me on crutches. When I was in elementary school, she became pretty much confined to a wheel chair. Mom finally acquired a motorized wheel chair which I and my school friends thoroughly enjoyed riding in all over our house. The country singer Sonny James bought her the electric wheel chair. Mom lost her leg in a car train accident when she was 17 years old.
Her dad, Mack, a second person, and Mom were riding in what looks like might have been a 1934 Chevrolet standard coupe. They were driving through the East Texas countryside.
The weather had been extreme that year in Texas. April 14, 1935 brought Black Sunday when dust storms rolled across much of Texas blacking out the sun for hours and days. May 30-31 brought severe flooding with as much as 20 inches of rain throughout central Texas. The Colorado River recorded a Great Flood. But the weather was not a factor in Mom’s accident, to my knowledge.
They stopped at a rail road crossing to allow a passing train to whiz by. There was only one long front seat in the vehicle. Next to Mom was her dad, then the other person who was a lady of unknown identity. I have been told by two sources they were enjoying a rather risqué joke being told by her dad. Unbeknownst to them, a speeding car was fast approaching them from the rear. One source said this vehicle was a truck. I was told, as I grew up and learned about this event, that the drivers were a young couple who were oblivious to the stopped vehicle ahead of them. They might have been lost in the scenery, or laughing at a joke themselves, or their eyes might have been locked in the rapture of their love. But, for whatever the reason, my mother’s destiny was about to be inexorably altered.
My mom’s car was rear ended and pushed into the path of the passing train. Her dad and the other person in the front seat were killed. Mom was somehow pushed back into the trunk of the car.
When rescue workers finally arrived they did not realize there was a third person involved in the accident until they heard Mom’s faint cry for help from the dark tomb of the trunk. She was pulled from the jaws of death. Mom was severely injured and went through over three years of surgeries and recuperation. In her own words,
“I was left with a mangled body!”
She ultimately became an amputee with her right leg being removed just below the hip, which made prosthesis difficult and painful to wear. These events molded her, as a potter molds a lump of clay, into the person she became. She became determined not to let these circumstances, or any hardships neither hinder nor overcome her.
I was told by another cousin, Mary, that Hazel blamed her baby sister, Francis, for this tragedy. Francis had wanted to spend the night at her sister, Lodema’s house. Mother felt Francis was spoiled and always got her way. So Francis talked her dad and mom into allowing the overnight visit. They were on the way to pick up Francis when the accident occurred. Thus Mother’s dad was killed, the other mystery rider died, and Mom was handicapped all because of a spoiled child’s wish to spend the night. That’s how Mother framed the event in her mind.
Another cousin, Deloris, who was but 4 years old, remembered when the news of the accident reached Mack’s wife, Willie. She was also at her daughter, Lodema’s house, where Francis had spent the night. Someone came to the door with the tragic news. Deloris remembers Willie screaming and Francis nearly fainted. The sorrow was overwhelming!
Deloris also remembered that later when Hazel came home from the hospital, that Francis was somewhat mean towards her. Francis might have also blamed Mother because she was driving when the collision occurred. She might also have become jealous of all the attention Hazel was receiving now because of her injuries. These feelings followed the two sisters all their lives and probably intensified the already existing rivalry between the two.
There was very little government assistance or programs for the disabled at that time in America. Mom decided to take her plea for assistance in overcoming her circumstances to the very top of the government, President Franklin Roosevelt. Mom might have been the first advocate for the disabled. She hitch hiked to the White House to see the President.
On the way there she picked up some PR in a newspaper article written about her plight and journey. When Mom arrived in Washington, she was not able to see the President.
“They would not let me in to see the President, but I did make it into the office. Everything was 18 karat gold, with guards standing all around.”
I was always told she met Eleanor Roosevelt and was given a limousine tour of the Capital. Another version of the encounter was that Mom met one named Francis Kelly at the U.S. Agriculture building and she arranged the tour. Mother was staying at the YMCA while in Washington, DC. The Limousine picked her up there and took her out on the town. She was truly one of the first advocates for government help for the disabled. She commented about her limousine journey,
“I met many sweet people. I love people and will never forget them!”
Mom had a tenacious determination and fearlessness about her. If anyone told her she couldn’t do something, that just made her more determined to prove them wrong. While in one of her marriages she had a large vegetable garden. My cousin Deloris said she remembered it. It covered a large area and was well kept, flourishing with all types of vegetables. Her husband went off to work and she went to work in her garden. Mom used a large aluminum dish pan to sit on and scoot up and down the rolls of vegetables in her garden. Using this sled she would care for and tend to the growing plants, plucking these delicacies at the proper moment to ensure their succulence. She would can and preserve them as surely her mother had taught her too. All this Mom did being an amputee, in her dishpan, and on her Crutches.
Deloris also told me Mom built a storm shelter! There were many severe thunder storms and tornadoes throughout this area. Mom wanted to be prepared, so she dug out a shelter in the back yard near their house. She had to dig down into the red east Texas clay to a depth of about eight feet. The area had to be large enough to accommodate the entire family. It was braced and framed. A large door at about a forty five degree angle to the ground was laid. A mound of dirt covered the top of the underground shelter. When finished it would protect a family from the frequent tornadoes in east Texas. It also served as a cool place to store the families preserves. Mom would dig and work on the project until her husband must have felt guilty his disabled wife was doing this on her own. He helped her finish the shelter.