Sometimes cheating death is an accident

By Bob Huber: PNT Columnist

When I was a kid in high top shoes and bib overalls, my Uncle Claude, a luckless farmer, tried to buy a one-way ticket to that Great Corn Field in the Sky. Of course his bad luck held up, and he failed.

It was Great Depression time in those days, and Uncle Claude’s luck was more disheartening than a Republican running for office. He was thousands in debt, drank too much, and his wife Buela was pregnant. There seemed no way he could avoid life’s bottomless pit.

So instead, he sought a way for his family to collect double indemnity on his life insurance. He decided to commit suicide, accidentally.

But Uncle Claude was aware of his shortcomings. Being nonviolent as well as unlucky, he ruled out guns. He wasn’t that desperate, yet. He was fearful that he’d only shoot himself in the foot.

He also thought about drowning himself, but the creek in my hometown was only two feet deep, and Claude was a good swimmer. He might have tried sleeping pills, but they weren’t invented yet.

The upshot was, he plotted to drive his car off the top of Mount Zion, which rose more than 1,000 feet straight up, a barren, rocky crag on the edge of my hometown. It had a narrow, twisting roadway, switching back and forth like a bony snake barely wide enough for a skinny donkey.

Uncle Claude’s plan was to drive off the mountain in his Model A pickup truck, feigning an accident so horrendous that his insurance company would pay double indemnity before they mopped him up. So he sat up there one night with his truck motor running, calculating all the reasons he should proceed and trying to find nerve enough to drive over the edge.

That’s when he ran out of gas. I don’t want to say Uncle Claude was a finite loser, but his truck’s battery was also dead so he couldn’t even jump it electrically. There was nothing to do but get out of the truck and push, leaping inside at the last minute as the truck dropped over the edge.
Of course his bad luck held true. He didn’t leap fast enough.
He said later the truck didn’t weigh near as much as he thought, and when he gave it a big push, it just — well, it just sprang over the edge and disappeared into the night. Uncle Claude had to walk that switch-back road all the way down the mountain until he found his truck sitting unscathed on the front lawn of the local funeral home.

It had traversed unassisted over cliffs, around rocks, and through gullies and finally came to rest where Uncle Claude wanted to be in the first place. Was that an omen or what?
That’s when he called up Plan B. He told Aunt Buela he was going to prune the giant elm trees that bordered the west side of his small farm. He calculated he could pretend to fall, placing him dead center, so to speak, on a cement slab in front of his milking barn.

The problem with Plan B was Uncle Claude was afraid of heights. By the time he climbed to the top of an appropriate tree, all he could do was cling to its swaying branches and mutter, “Glurk, glurk.”

Aunt Buela had to call the volunteer fire department, but even after he was rescued, Uncle Claude couldn’t stop muttering, “Glurk, glurk,” his face twitching.

So Uncle Claude fell back on his last best hope — Plan C, a hunting accident. In spite of his fear of weapons, he kept an ancient shotgun in the barn to threaten hay haulers.

Although he’d never fired it, he told Aunt Buela he was going hunting, and if she heard a shot, not to fret. She shrugged and went on pruning elm trees.

It was an integral part of Plan C to make it appear he’d become snagged in a barbed wire fence and accidentally shot himself, but he miscalculated the dependability of ancient shotguns. By the time he staggered home late in the day his clothes were in tatters and he had blistered fingers from trying to fire the weapon. It refused to go off.

But Uncle Claude wasn’t a quitter. World War II came along about that time, and he enlisted in the Marines, because they had the most casualties. But all that happened was he caused planes to crash for no reason, ships to sink mysteriously and troops to land on wrong beaches. It was easy to follow his trail by campaigns that failed.

Which goes to show no matter how dark the night, a little bad luck can win a war.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.