Actually I almost died four times that summer

Actually, I almost died four times that summer

By Charlie Gargiulo

After me and mom finally got kicked out of one of the last apartment buildings left in Little Canada, we got placed in an apartment next door to where our old building still stood, waiting for the wrecking ball to come and erase forever the physical proof that my Aunt Rose had a home here before it was stolen from her.

We’re only here temporarily until a unit opens up for us in the housing projects on the other side of Market Street.  After losing so many people I loved when they destroyed Little Canada, I feel shaky and nervous about losing the people I got left. Thank God my mom has stayed away from the booze and we have each other. Probably, the most important person I have left besides my mom is her youngest brother Uncle Arthur, who is also my Godfather.

Remember when I told you about how I almost died three times in the summer of 1964 when I was twelve? Well, I forgot to tell you that I actually almost died four times. I didn’t tell you about the other time because my Uncle Arthur came closer to getting killed than me. So instead of thinking about it as the fourth time I almost died that summer, I think about it far more as the time I almost lost Uncle Arthur.

Shortly after my Uncle Leo was moved into the nursing home, my Uncle Arthur asked me if I could spend a weekend with him in Dracut to help him start packing things because he was going to be forced out by my evil Aunt who now had control of Uncle Leo’s house. I always loved visiting the old house that me and Mom and Dad lived in on Lakeview Avenue with my Uncles Arthur and Leo, but I was very sad knowing that it was going to be one of the last times I would be able to go inside. I have so many fond memories of the place, but now it was going to feel a little haunted, except in this case I would be the ghost haunting a place because I was unable to let go of the once happy home where we used to live together not so long ago.

My Uncle Arthur picked me up on Friday night in his cool Cushman cart, which was like a golf cart that was allowed to drive on roads because it had a powerful motorcycle engine, and I was peeking through my new comic books with a flashlight lying in the pick-up truck back area.  All of a sudden, I felt it veer crazily and before I realized what was happening, the vehicle jerked violently to the right, tipped over and I was shot through the air like I was fired from a catapult. Before I could even react to what was happening, I was skidding and tumbling across the pavement. I got up in shock, wondering briefly if I was dead and then checking in panic to see what parts of me might be broken. At about the precise moment I realized that I was miraculously unhurt, except for being pretty scraped up, I heard my Uncle Arthur yelling my name over and over again.

He was pinned under the heavy engine part of the vehicle. I ran over to him and saw the engine was still running while it was lying directly on top of my Uncle Arthur’s legs. He was barely conscious and he told me to shut off the engine and begged me to help. I shut it off and could smell his flesh burning while he was screaming in pain. I tried lifting the vehicle off him but it was way too heavy. I looked for help and realized we were on a near deserted back road in Dracut with no houses or cars within immediate sight. His screams and the smell of his burning legs must have given me a burst of super strength because when I pushed with all my might, I got it to raise up just enough that he was able to crawl out. As soon as he did, I collapsed and the Cushman cart crashed to the ground.  I crawled over to him and he was moaning and I saw his pant legs were ripped apart and his calves were dark and, what really scared me, steaming. I started holding him and screaming for help. Fortunately, I saw a car’s headlights coming and I got up and waved them down and they went to the closest house and called an ambulance.

The ambulance rushed him to St. Joe’s and I came along and had to stay in the waiting area of the emergency room. I told the cops to tell my mom and she came with our next door neighbor Raymond.  We waited for hours before a doctor came out and talked with my mom. He said that Uncle Arthur had third degree burns on both of his calves and they had to keep him in the hospital to do some special stuff to his skin. After a couple of days he was released and my mom got our neighbor Ernie to get his friend with a car to pick him up from the hospital and they carried him upstairs to me and mom’s apartment, where we could look after him and help him recover. Unfortunately, that night he developed a high fever and his legs became extremely painful. The next morning when my mom unwrapped his bandages to clean him up, she got real scared because his right leg had swollen to twice the size of the other one and it was very hot to the touch. She called the hospital and they said they were afraid he was getting blood poisoning so they sent an ambulance to pick him up.

I was panicked and scared out of my mind.  It didn’t help that a bunch of nosy neighbors were lined up in the skinny alleyway making it hard for the ambulance people to roll my Uncle Arthur on a stretcher to get to Austin Street where the ambulance was parked.  After the ambulance took off, I chased after it, as it went up the wrong way on the one way Austin Street, rushing him to St. Joseph’s Hospital. I kept screaming, “I’m coming Uncle Arthur!” as loud as I could over and over again for the quarter mile it took to get him to the emergency room. I ran so fast I got there just in time to see them wheeling him in.  Mom was walking hurriedly with them when she heard me screaming and crying as I came into view so she waited for me and we quickly went in together.

They had already wheeled Uncle Arthur into one of the side rooms where they do emergency stuff and they wouldn’t let us in there at first. My mom got angry and said she was his sister and after some nurse gave her a hard time, a doctor signaled that it was okay for her to go in but that I had to stay in the waiting room. As I watched Mom go to the room with Uncle Arthur, tears were pouring down my cheeks and snots were running out my nose when I realized the waiting room was full of people staring at me. For a split second I felt a wave of humiliation start to come over me, but then it was blasted apart as such a small and trivial thought by the sheer power of the terror I felt wondering if my Uncle Arthur was going to die.

Some woman sitting in the waiting room gave me a small box of tissues and when I looked at everyone it hit me that none of them cared one damn bit about me crying my eyes out because they all sat looking lost in their own world of fear for whoever they were waiting to hear about inside the emergency room. So after going to the bathroom and washing my face and hands I went out to the waiting room and waited. I hated waiting for anything, but as you can imagine, this wait was the worst kind of waiting ever invented. But as bad as the wait was, I almost wanted to be able to keep waiting, even if it was forever, rather than have somebody come and tell me bad news. I closed my eyes and tried to fight off the panic and scary thoughts by praying, and as I prayed my mind kept flashing scenes about Uncle Arthur as if he was the hero of my favorite movie.

Thinking about my Uncle Arthur while waiting in the Emergency Room was like going back and forth between two worlds, one world was filled with warm daydreamy thoughts about all the cool reasons why I love him, only to be invaded by another nightmare world that shook me back to the fact I was waiting in a hospital afraid that my Uncle Arthur might die. It took all of my strength not to crack up and I fought to chase that fear away by praying and begging God to help Uncle Arthur pull through.

I was so scared, afraid like Hell that Mom was going to come back out to the waiting room with horrible news but when she finally did I was so happy to see that she wasn’t crying and looked relieved. I ran over to her and she smiled and said that Uncle Arthur was going to be okay. Uncle Arthur was going to be okay.


This story supplements Charlie Gargiulo’s memoir, Legends of Little Canada, which is available from Loom Press.

My review of Legends is available here.

4 Responses to Actually I almost died four times that summer

  1. Louise Peloquin says:

    It takes just a few words, a sentence or two perhaps, for the storyteller to cast a spell upon his readers and transform them into eyewitnesses, sidekicks, friends. Such is storyteller Gargiulo’s magic.

  2. Susan April says:

    Charlie, this story really hit me hard. My mother was in a Boston Hospital, early 1980s, about to lose her leg. She was in awful pain, gangrene. But the worst part was a poor fellow in the room next door who was a burn victim. He just moaned such a aching awful soul-shaking way, especially when they were changing the bandages. He didn’t make it. I’m so glad that your Uncle Arthur (I have an Uncle Arthur as well!) survived the Cushman cart accident and that you were there for him. Fine writing.

  3. Louise Peloquin says:

    It only takes a sentence or two for the reader to become an eyewitness, a buddy, a friend in empathetic sync with the narrative. Authenticity casts its spell. Such is the Gargiulo storytelling magic.

  4. Ed DeJesus says:


    We’ve all got our favorite uncles and heroes from our youth. But it takes courage and talent to convey the emotions of what they meant to us. I’m guessing you have nieces and nephews that think you are their favorite uncle.

    Good job and good luck with your book.

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