Beth sat on the front porch of her grandmother’s home. She was on the front row of the drag race every Saturday night. The boys from the country loved to drag race down the middle of town, showing which one of them had the faster car.
Beth could tell which cars belonged to the McDougal’s boys, and to the Cowall boys, but she had trouble telling when the Jones boys came to run. The cars would line up, two by two, in front of Wilson’s store, which was next door to her Grandmother’s house. There was at least a quarter of a mile straight road until you got to the curve at the High School. The start would be a squeal of tires, burning rubber with white smoke wafting down to ‘the porch’. All one could see for a few moments was the white lights floating through the smoke until the red taillights past the porch. She held her breath, hoping the cars would not run into each other, as they swerved into the curve and out of sight. All the kids in school knew who those boys were, and the grown-ups wanted the drag racing stopped. The adults called the police.
Since this drag race happened thirteen- miles out in the county, the boys would be gone before law ever saw, or heard, what they endured. That was what the grandparents thought; they had to ‘endure’ that drag race. The kids loved it.
Maybe Beth was not supposed to love the excitement of these Saturday nights, but she looked forward to the races. She loved the red and white ’57 Chevrolet that belonged to Johnny Cowall. He not only had the faster car, he had black hair, blue eyes and the tall physique. Beth thought he was the best-looking person she had ever seen. He was nice to everyone with his shy smile and quiet ‘hello’.
Now, the McDougal boys were something different. They were loud, boisterous and just plain mean. Nevertheless, everyone said those boys would give you the shirts off their backs, if you ask them, or they knew you needed it. However, Beth did not like them because they never looked at you in the eye, or made you feel like they would smile if their life depended on it. She never gave much thought to the other boys because their cars were bad.
By the way, Beth remembers so well, she could not have been much older than fourteen years old. Her family lived with her Grandmother and Granddaddy one complete winter. They would sit out on the porch, watching the races, wrapped in flannel pajamas and winter coats. Cousins would be visiting some weekends, and they made a party out of it, eating roasted peanuts, pecans and sipping hot chocolate.
When the law would arrive, the races would have been over for at least ten minutes, so they would be off the front porch, inside by the open fireplace. The cousins and Beth would unwrap bodies and be warming up, singing or playing games.
The last time she remembered sitting on the front porch, watching a drag race on Highway 22 East, was an early spring morning. The boys lined up, with their shiny cars ready to prove one more time, which one had the faster car. This time, a new person lined up to race. Beth had never seen him before. She did not think her Granddaddy knew who he was either, and her Granddaddy knew everyone in town. The air filled with anticipation and concern.
She did not know who dropped the start flag early that evening, but a shrill scream came out of nowhere. The type of scream you hear in a horror film. It was louder than the shrill of the tires and it went on with such force. They all froze, looking toward the cars. Beth saw two cars sliding into each other and then into the people standing on the edge of the road: eyes filled with fear, mouths covered by hands, tears streaming down their cheeks, people were going into shock.
There on the pavement lay the new person, motionless. His eyes were wide open and you could tell there was no light in those eyes. One of the girls started screaming, hysterically. Beth’s mother was trying to get her to calm down. Beth’s daddy was over the boy, trying to find some sign of life. There was none. Her Granddaddy was telling her uncle to call the ambulance and tell the police what had happened. They needed to get here faster than they had before. It seemed like only moments the night had become full of lights, sirens and cries. Someone had called the boys family. They had arrived.
Beth’s Grandmother tried her best to get all of her grand kids to come back to ‘the porch’. She did not get that wish. The scene was something the children seemed they could not look away from, as hard as she tried to make them. Even when the ambulance picked up the boys lifeless body, placed it on the gurney, and covered him with the sheet, they could not look away. Beth’s mother had to keep the screaming girl from climbing on the gurney. The girl became more upset, as they passed her.
By that time, the girl’s parents came to the race. Beth wished they had been there earlier. Beth needed her mother with her. She needed to ask her questions. Her Grandmother could not say anything except, ‘Let’s go back to ‘the porch’ child!’ She wanted to scream, “I can’t!”
Her daddy finally got up off his knees. Beth did not see how much blood he had on his hands until he stood up. She thought the boy was only hurt a little. She did not realize he was bleeding and her daddy was trying to stop all that blood. When she saw her Daddy’s face, he was pale as death. He was crying. Beth had never seen her daddy cry. He was searching the crowd for her mother. She looked up and caught his eye. She turned over the screaming girl to her parents and walked over to Beth’s dad, took him by the hand and led him out of the crowd. She walked him across the road, down to her Grandmother’s house, and through the side door. Beth started to go with them but her Grandmother put her hand on her shoulder, shaking her head saying, “No child. Stay with me!” She did not understand, but she knew not to argue. Her grandmother had that look on her face and that tone in her voice.
Beth looked for her Granddaddy. He was talking with the Policeman. He was telling them what he saw. She knew the Police would listen to him. Her Granddaddy was such a man of his word, that if he said it, you could believe it. He would never say a thing that was not pure truth.
It took about an hour for everyone to clear out and go home. People kept milling around, asking questions. Her Grandmother told the story, repeatedly. She finally said she was going back to ‘the porch’. Several people followed them.
That was the last time she saw a drag race from her vantage point. Those boys, so proud of their fast cars, never did pull up in front of Wilson’s store to drag race again.
She did not know the boy that died was a brother to one of the boys in the cars until Sunday at church. He and his brother were only visiting with his parents for the spring break. He had met the girl two days prior. She was so upset, because she had dropped the flag that night. Beth’s mother knew the girl since she was born. That is why she went to her so fast. Beth’s Daddy never got over the fact that he held that boy in his arms, listening to his confession of faith, while he died. Beth said she heard her daddy cry over his death for years to come, but her Daddy was glad that boy had given his heart to Jesus.
Now, almost every time Beth hears tires squeal and she sees white smoke, she thinks of that spring evening. She thinks of the races from ‘the porch’. Beth never forgot the cry of the girl that lost the boy, or the cries of the parents that lost their son.
I am Beth’s best friend. I am the girl that lost the boy that night. I am the girl who dropped the flag. I am the one that saw the car crash into the boy. His brother was driving the car that night that killed him.
Beth and I grew up a year that night, from ‘the porch’.