by judith Higgins
It was the fourth of July, and I felt thrilled to be spending a week in the mountains with my aunt, my uncle, and three cousins. I was six years old. My parents owned and managed a number of firework stands around the Denver area, and most of my extended family worked for them. As I got older, I too would spend my 4th of July holiday selling fireworks. But this week was going to be the best week ever for me; I was going on a wonderful vacation to the mountains!
Every summer my Aunt Lee and Uncle Al rented a small rustic cabin on a river in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I had never been to their cabin, but my parents said it was wonderful. It was tucked back in the woods, and hidden from traffic, and city noise.
When we arrived, my chest hurt a little, the altitude made it hard to breathe. Pagosa Springs is quite a bit higher in the mountains than Denver Colorado, where we lived. It is located 35 miles north of New Mexico and nestled at 7,000 feet. Dad said I would get used to it in a few days.
When we walked into the cabin that day, I thought I had made it to heaven. My aunt had a baby doe caged off in her laundry room. She had rescued it from the highway and was nursing it back to health. She said I could help her feed it with a warm baby bottle. I could hardly wait for my parents to leave, so I could begin my vacation!
My aunt and uncle had three kids: Allen, Susie and Dale. Allen was 9 years old, Susie was two years younger, and Dale was a baby. One day Allen, Susie and I asked Aunt Lee if we could go for a hike. She said it was okay as long as we followed the river and stayed together. The San Juan River that flows through Pagosa Springs is a fast rolling river filled with big boulders. The boulders are so high in some areas that they create natural waterfalls. The River is fairly wide across because it is significant tributary to the Colorado River. The water is very cold, as all the rivers in Colorado are, and filled with trout.
Off we went that day on a hike….by ourselves. We had so much fun. I remember picking wild flowers, watching a big bull frog leap from rock to rock and fall head first into the muddy riverbed. My cousin Susie and I laughed and laughed at that silly frog. The beautiful rocks along the river seemed to be filled with gold. If the sun caught them just right they would light up. To this day I love rocks, especially diamonds surrounded by gold!
The rivers roar was frightening, but also fun. We walked along the river that day as if we did not have a care in the world. All of a sudden, from very far away, we heard a whistle. Aunt Lee had the loudest whistle I had ever heard! Allen and Susie began running back towards the house, because in the mountains, it gets dark very quickly. Susie yelled, “Run Judi, we have to go home now!” I was younger than my cousins and had never been alone by the river before. I felt fear rise up in me as I yelled, “Hey wait for me……please wait for me!”
It was getting darker and I ran as fast as I could follow the sound of the river, and headed toward the cabin. The crickets sang their songs so loud that I could hardly hear the rushing river. All of a sudden I tripped! I could only see black. After a while I realized that I was caught in a fallen barbed wire fence. I stood up and when my eyes focused, I saw blood shooting out of my wrist. Every few seconds, a burst of blood came out. I felt a slight sting and then pain. “Help me!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Now I was really scared! Oh my, I thought, the first adventure in the mountains that I get to go on, and I get hurt. My imagination went wild, and I thought to myself, “What if they never find me and I die here, by the river, bleeding?”
Aunt Lee had begun to search for me, and although it seemed like hours as I sat there in the dark, I found out later it was just minutes. I heard her yelling, “Judi where are you?” I could see her flashlight coming closer. “I am here,” I yelled, “On the ground by the river, and I’m bleeding.” She untangled me from the barbed wire fence and wrapped something around my wrist and arm. She slowly picked me up and carefully carried me in her arms back along the river, up the steep hill to the cabin.
Once we got inside the cabin Aunt Lee set me down on the kitchen counter and realized I was really hurt. I looked down and my hand seemed to be hanging off my wrist, and blood was still shooting out of me. I could see the white bone, but it wasn’t broken. She ran to the closet and got a bunch of white sheets, tore them in strips, and began wrapping my wrist tightly. My blood filled the sheet material as fast as she could wrap it.
After an hour or so my Aunt looked at me with a very sad face and told me that she could not take me to the hospital because she didn’t have a car. She said, “Your Uncle Al has already left for his trucking job and he will not be back for many days.” There were no phones in the cabin, and no one lived nearby. I was not scared anymore though because Aunt Lee promised me I would be okay. She was a mother of three kids and I had complete trust that she knew what to do to help me. All that night and for the next two days and nights, Aunt Lee cut up sheets and wrapped my wrist. She even took sheets off of her bed to wrap my wrist. Every day I was weaker and had less energy. Instead of getting better I felt like I just wanted to sleep and I was not hungry at all. The cousins were having fun all around me, feeding the baby doe, playing board games, card games, and running around the house playing hide and go seek. I was told to be still and that is really all I could do.
Word got back to my parents, I am not sure how, and they arrived on the third night. When they arrived unexpectedly, I thought dad was going to be mad at me for falling along the river. I remember being weak and very sleepy. Dad was not mad at me after all and seemed very concerned. He carried me out and put me in the back of our car. Dad and mom drove me to a doctor’s home in Pagosa Springs. I was nervous because if my parents had driven all the way from Denver (6 hour drive in those days) to get me, they must think my injury was pretty bad. My parents were very quiet on the drive to the doctors. They were just looking straight ahead at the road. I told myself that they must be very tired and somewhat worried about my injury. The doctor carefully took off my bandages and said, “No need for stitches.” He put a proper bandage on me that went from my thumb to my elbow. He told my parents to change it out every few days and try not to get it wet. The doctor told us that night that Aunt Lee had saved my life by wrapping my wrist with clean sheets.
We never drove back to the cabin. We stayed the night in a hotel in Pagosa Springs and drove back to Denver the next morning. I often wondered if my parents were mad at Aunt Lee for letting me play along the river at only 6 years old. I never stayed with her and Uncle Al again.
I thanked Aunt Lee a number of times in the years that passed. She always laughed and said, “I am just glad we had enough sheets!” Aunt Lee died a few years ago. She lived into her 80’s.
I have a scar that goes all the way across my wrist from the fall that day. Every once in a while someone will notice my scar and ask me how I cut my wrist. Memories of that summer vacation in the mountains flash back to me. It was the most important summer I have ever had. It was the summer that my Aunt Lee saved my life.