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In this story from April 1950, the actress and singer–and Kukla and Ollie's best pal–shares how she relied on faith when her life was at risk.
The big crisis in my life occurred when I was just starting my career.
A girl friend, Jessie, and I were driving to Des Moines for the weekend. An accident happened; so quickly I barely recall it. There was Jessie’s mad wrestle to control the car; then I was pitched into glass, metal, noise and pain.
In a state of semi-consciousness I remember voices, a hospital and Jessie, unhurt, telling someone to call my mother back in Port City, Iowa, but not to frighten her. Then a priest came to say the last rites over me, just as I slipped into unconsciousness.
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Later I remember more voices:
“She wouldn’t be able to get here in time” (meaning my mother) ... “It’s useless to operate"..."Too late to do much of anything.”
Weak as I was, somehow all this made me protest. They hadn’t even tried. Nobody was doing a thing. My doctor at home would have tried.
With a great effort I made a feeble sound and called the name of my home town doctor.
My voice startled them. Jessie then tried to tell me that she had talked to my mother, “Nan,” and that Nan was praying for me. (I learned later that my mother walked up and down the kitchen for ten hours straight praying for my recovery. Anyone who came near her was asked to join.)
The fact that I was able to moan for a doctor, while seemingly on the verge of death, brought on some quick action. It was four in the morning but the nurses immediately pulled out a doctors’ registry. They assumed that the doctor I called for was located in Des Moines.
Call it coincidence, but they located a doctor of the same name and got him on the phone: “Hello, Doctor ... one of your patients is down here at the hospital ... She’s in a bad way. Could you come out immediately?”
Fogged with sleep, the doctor couldn’t remember any patient by the name of Allison, yet he dressed and hurried down to the hospital. Of course he didn’t recognize me, but it was enough that I had called for him.
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Gathering together his assistants, he went to work on my smashed face. He felt my condition was this side of hopeless. But he patched me together.
I believe to this day that if God hadn’t given me enough strength to cry out that name, I would have been left unattended to die.
When I quit the hospital, whatever beauty I had was a memory. Behind my face was recurrent pain and dread onslaughts of headaches.
Yet there was much to be grateful for. My sight had been spared. My throat was all right ... I could still sing. I could walk, hear. And I could laugh.
Perhaps it was my brush with death and my awareness of my mother’s prayers and my own–I had the feeling that God had bolstered my spirit when others had given me up.
In this period of recuperation, of constant headache and pain, “Nan’s” (as everyone called mother) remarkable spirit and sense of humor were powerful therapies.
Nan herself was the perfect example of a woman whose faith had triumphed over unbelievable obstacles. When I was five, my father had been felled with paralysis, so our family had to move in with his parents.