Thursday, March 9, 2017

A 70-year-old drama

My grandparents' truck was hit by a drunk driver on June 6, 1944, triggering a drama that continued into the next year. I do not know whether this is the truck involved, but this family photo would have been taken at about that time. Left to right, my Uncle Frank, my mother Frances, and my Uncle Len. All helped on the farm during the war.

Granny and Grandpa Allen at about the time the incident occurred, with their first grandchild, Alan Halvorsen.

The war in Europe was raging at the time my grandparents were fighting in court over the truck accident. This photo was taken before my Uncle Joe left for the war. From left to right, Frances Allen, Frank Allen, Kenny Winters (a neighbour), Len Allen, Joe Allen, Ernest Allen.

I imagine my grandparents' lives as sedate and non-eventful, focused on the rural realities of weather, crops and animals. Aside from the fact that they went into Red Deer at least once a week to see the latest movie, this seems mainly true. The little daily diary kept by my mother's mother, Granny (Edith) Allen, is mainly about farm and family events, with plenty of reports about snow-blocked roads thrown in.

But every so often, she records a drama that seems out of keeping with the 1940s rural Alberta I imagine. One of these began on June 6, 1944, the same day as a much bigger drama, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Europe. Granny duly notes the world event, and a prayer service in Red Deer's city square to mark it that afternoon. But later in the day, there's this:

"Coming home, a car of drunks ran into us on the highway. . . . Smashed the left wheel, axle, fender and light. We had to stay in Red Deer all night. Other car very badly smashed. Girl had face cut."

Someone took them home from Red Deer, but on June 9, Grandpa bicycled into town to bring the truck home "minus front fender and lights." Three days later, my grandparents were shocked to get a lawyer's letter "demanding payment for damages to the drunks' car that ran into us on the 6th. He wants $400 for car and other expenses. We are pretty worried about this."

On June 19, they talked to police, who told them they didn't have to pay anything. So they hired a lawyer, (Granny calls him only McLure) "to write a letter to the other fellow and tell him we will have nothing to do with it and if he insists we will carry out a counter claim for our damages."

Over the next few months, as the war raged in Europe (where their son, my Uncle Joe, was fighting) and the regular cycle of farm work continued, the little truck incident simmered along. Not having a fender was a pain. When Uncle Frank drove back from Red Deer in heavy rain one day, Granny noted the truck was "in a terrible state. . . the mud splashed over everything."

On Oct. 2, they got another shock. They received a notice "that the other man -- Eugene Westergon -- was going to sue us for $590 damages." So it was back to the lawyer, and the worry continued over the next few months as they monitored the war news, greeted two new grandchildren, packed overseas parcels for Uncle Joe and celebrated Christmas.

On Jan. 24, 1945, the case finally made it to court, with Grandpa attending an examination for discovery at the courthouse. "He was questioned by lawyer Marx of Edmonton under oath," Granny noted. "McLure questioned Westergon. Clerk of court took evidence down in shorthand."

Finally, on March 1, Granny and Grandpa went to Red Deer for the trial, which began at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday and ended at 3:30 p.m. the next day. "Trial quite interesting," she wrote. "We won out with judge allowing us $735 damages and costs to be paid by other fellow. All four occupants of Westergon's car had served previous jail sentences for robbery and assault and police were trying to track them down for dope-traffic."

A drunken car crash. An aggressively unrepentant perpetrator. Robbery, assault and dope-trafficking. It all sounds very modern -- nothing I would have imagined even existing in quiet little Red Deer 70 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it seems very surprising for Red Deer 70 years ago. There must be more tales to be told!