By Carol Schott Martino
It’s been nearly 30 years since I was a columnist for a local paper and wrote about Sarah and the straw. I shared the story with son Richie shortly after he got his driver’s license and gave him a box of drinking straws -- those colorful striped ones that once came in a box with a smiling clown on front. They might not even be available anymore, but it doesn’t matter to the story I want to tell here -- a story I've since shared with son Jason, and more recently with my grandchildren when they each got their driver’s license.
The story is about Sarah, a young girl who loved to laugh, dance, play basketball, and hang out with friends. Then one day in May, two weeks before her high school graduation, she got behind the wheel of her little car and picked up her best friend; they went for a spin on country roads. I picture the girls now - carefree, wind blowing through their hair, clowning around as the radio played their favorite tunes.
Then the tires hit loose gravel … Sarah lost control of the car, and her best friend never lived to wear a cap and gown. Sarah ended up paralyzed from the neck down. Several months later, I read about Sarah; her memory of the accident haunts me to this day – “It all happened so fast, so fast,” she said. In a split second, Sarah’s carefree days, her dreams and the future she had planned were gone; and so was her best friend. Eventually, she mastered the simple task of sipping liquids through a straw to sustain her life. Physically, though, that’s about all she would ever be able to do, according to doctors at the time.
I cried when I read about Sarah’s life being sipped through a thin piece of plastic. Since then, the straw has become a symbol for me – a reminder to be careful on the roads. So I began placing a straw under Richie’s windshield wiper blades whenever he left home. Each time, he’d roll his blue eyes and say, “Oh mom, don’t be so silly.” But he listened; he knew it was my right as a mother to worry about his safety, and to this day he remembers Sarah’s story. And his brother and children remember it too.
Young drivers may no longer clown around on country roads and “spit gravel” like in the old days. I really don't know. But I do know that any vehicle on any road can become a weapon that causes death and destruction in a split second – maybe even more so today with all the talking and texting on cell phones. And the worry is no longer limited to young drivers. Many of us are tempted at times to preoccupy ourselves with business or chit-chat instead of the road ahead. When those temptations arise, we must ask ourselves, “Is this conversation, message, or recklessness worth sipping the rest of my life through a straw? Or bringing unimaginable grief to another family?” Truth is, we’re never too old to slip a straw beneath our own wiper blades. It's a simple reminder that our lives can change in a split second.
Sarah's name has been changed, and the original column has been revised and updated from“Schott at Sunrise, a collection of columns, copyrighted in 1987.