Portland, Maine— In Holly, Michigan, where I grew up, your family was either Ford or General Motors.
My dad was a Ford man. I have childhood memories of many of these vehicles, including a Ford Custom, whose headlights would go out without notice. Scary.
When Lee Iacocca was at the Ford Motor Company, his most famous legacy was the Ford Mustang. I still recall the stunning red Mustang convertible my sister had when they first came out. Another Iacocca project was the Ford Maverick. A unique design and marketing scheme, included bold paint colors, each with bizarre names: Anti Establish Mint, Hulla Blue, Original Cinnamon, and Freudian Gilt (a bright butterscotch) were the most notable.
Prior to leaving for college at Andrews University in southwestern Michigan (200 miles from Holly), I had a summer job mowing greens at Holly Greens Golf Course a mere seven miles from our home.
Just before leaving to his annual assignment at the 10-day famous, old fashioned, SDA Camp Meeting in Grand Ledge, my father surprised me with the keys to his brand new Freudian Gilt Ford Maverick. He purchased this car for me to use while in college, and it was the first car my father had purchased that had seat belts as standard equipment.
The hot days of July had turned to the dog days of August, and it was not uncommon for the heat and humidity of the day to mix with moisture coming off the Great Lakes. This would result in fast moving thunderstorms zig-zagging across the beautiful Oakland County countryside.
After a full week of driving my new Freudian Gilt back and forth to work, I was anxious to drive over to Grand Ledge and show it off. Before leaving work this particular Friday, however, I stayed for my boss’ birthday celebration at the club house. Afterward, when preparing to leave the parking lot, without thinking, I buckled my seat belt, not knowing why, as this was my first time using them.
The sun was starting to set and the sky was getting dark from storm clouds moving south from Flint so I turned my headlights on. I knew the roads in the area like the back of my hand and after crossing the I-75 overpass, I headed westward toward Holly.
I quickly shifted the three-speed manual column transmission as if I were running the race in Lemans. Curves in the two-lane road were not a problem for this race driver and I loved the feeling of using the transmission to provide braking by downshifting. I felt invincible and on straightaway sections of the road I was hitting a speed of 65, maybe not the best idea with 13-inch wheels.
A particularly dark looking cloud started to spark lightning flashes which illuminated the countryside. I was transfixed by these multiple sparklers of light which reminded me of the way the bright lights at Tiger Stadium made the baseball diamond light up at night.
I was so taken by the lightning display that I failed to notice how quickly I was approaching a turn to the left in the road. I figured I could brake from my speed of 60 something and probably make it okay. Because the road was wet and because I knew there was a gravel road that went straight, I decided to hit the gravel road, slow down gradually, and then turn around and get back on the paved road.
After letting up on the gas, my momentum on the gravel road had taken me about 100 feet. Checking the speedometer, I was down to about 55. Being the impatient sort, I decided to brake a little to shorten the distance until I could make a U turn.
I lightly touched the brakes. Oh, no! The brakes locked! Within a second I lost control. All of a sudden, The Freudian Gilt was airborne and spinning toward the right — one turn, two turns, then three.
Just like on an amusement ride, I felt and saw each twist of the Freudian Tilt-a-Whirl. During the third spin, my headlights pointed out just beyond the ditch, the most gigantic tree this Freudian Gilt was headed for. Even though I hadn't studied much in Mr. Hansen's geometry class, I knew the trajectory had us destined for a collision that would demolish me and my car.
I was convinced this was it.
My life was over!
Even though this was happening very quickly, during these spins it seemed to me that I was traveling in slow motion. There was decided thought process about what was happening and what I understood by the third spin to be the inevitable forthcoming finale.
The next thing I knew, my Freudian Gilt and I were still.
I was somewhat confused, but it finally hit me that I was upside down. There was a narrow space to my left where the window used to be and I went to crawl out, but couldn't move. I realized I had to unfasten my seat belt. As I was crawling out of this narrow space, I smelled gas and what had been a level of fear, immediately turned into stage 4 shock.
I dusted myself off. Not a bruise, not a broken bone, not even a scratch from all the shattered glass. Not escaping the trauma, however, was my inner self.
Shaking, I went to a nearby house and rang the doorbell. A lady answered the door, but I literally could not speak, I could only point toward the ditch where my car had ended up upside down with the front end facing back toward the east.
Within a couple minutes the unique blue purple of a Michigan State Police car with its single bubble-gum top emergency light was alongside my upside-down Freudian Gilt Maverick. The reflection of the red emergency light was casting a rotating reflection off my metal hubcaps that were now suspended in air.
The right front passenger post had collapsed and was leveled to the dash and the car was pretty much demolished with the roof being mostly flattened. Except, the left front post where I had been, had remained in place, creating a protective space.
As this very professional State Trooper looked up over the top of his glasses, he said, "You are one lucky young man, as I don't see how anyone could have survived this accident.”
To this day I still don't understand how I ended up upside down facing the direction I had been coming from as my last recollection of the "ride" had been in the third airborne spin.
What I did understand that evening and ever since was that God has a plan for my life and there is no other explanation for this miraculous outcome.
After hitching a ride the next morning to the campgrounds in Grand Ledge, I calmly conveyed the experience to my parents, who fortunately were sitting down.
The following week my father took me down to the Ford dealer with a check from State Farm for the full price of the Freudian Gilt ($2,035), minus $50 depreciation.
We drove away with another brand new Ford Maverick. This time, it was Original Cinnamon!
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at email@example.com.