This story did not take place at Thanksgiving, but it makes a perfect Thanksgiving story.  It is an account of how my cousin with just 25 seconds to think saved an entire Amish family’s life.  Sometimes when I contemplate this story, I think about Clarence’s line in It’s a Wonderful Life when he says, “Strange Isn’t it.  Each man’s Life touches so many other lives,” That line will always make me think about my cousin.   But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fred Holasek and I are double cousins.  Our fathers were brothers making us first cousins.  However, our mothers were also first cousins making us first cousins once removed.  Fred often said to me, “we have a lot of common DNA.”  Fred and I also share a history of family tragedy.  My mother died when I was 8 weeks old, and his father died at 39 when he and his brother were 3 1/2 and 1 1/2

We saw each other frequently growing up.  My aunts and uncles on my father’s side cared so much about all of their nieces and nephews, since for the most part they did not marry and lived together in this wonderful Holasek household.

I was six years older than Fred, so once I went to nursing school, our paths did not cross as much.  Eventually, I had settled in Virginia, and hadn’t seen Fred until another family tragedy hit, the death of my father.  Ironically, this happened the same week Fred married his wife, Cheryl, and Stacy and I met her at the funeral for the first time.  Our son Will was only 38 days old who was left behind in Fredericksburg with my beloved Aunt Lil.

Time marches on and everyone’s family grew.  When all of our children got together, Will and Holly were about 11 and 10, and Fred’s children and mine got along famously. (First two pictures were 1987, and last two 1989)

This picture is all of the four cousins, my brother Jonathan and my cousin Carol, and Fred’s children in 2001 along with my Aunt Lillian and Uncle George.

Throughout the years of Fred and Cheryl’s marriage, they continued to raise their family, Cheryl a pediatric nurse, and Fred a steelworker.  They loved Amish country and would go to a specific bed and breakfast for their anniversary.

One particular day in June, 18 and a half years ago, Fred and Cheryl went to Amish country without their kids to their favorite place because their children were with my other cousin, Carol, in Walt Disney World.

They were enjoying their long weekend on a beautiful Friday evening around 5 PM and decided to go out to dinner.  All the roads in Amish country are windy two lane roads.  They turned to the right and slowly went up the curvy road, because they were behind an Amish family in a buggy.  Next to the buggy was the older teenage son on horseback.  They weren’t in a rush and couldn’t pass because of the curves,  so they were enjoying the view.  Cheryl and Fred were chatting when Fred noticed a pick up truck going extremely fast (probably around 70 miles per hour) behind him.  Cheryl never saw it coming.

Fred kept glancing back waiting for the pick up to pass all of them including  his jeep cherokee, the horse and buggy, and the fellow on horseback.

This all happened within 25 seconds, and suddenly Fred realized the fellow was not going to pass.  His thought process went something like this:  We’re going to be hit, but if I don’t turn that wheel, that guy is going to kill those people in that buggy and the boy on horseback, because I will be pushed right into them.   He knew also that there was a deep gully to the right, and if he turned that wheel he and Cheryl could also die immediately.  But he turned that wheel sharp to the right at the time of impact.

The pick up truck was stopped from hitting that Amish family, but Fred and Cheryl went airborne over the gully and landed far into the field.   They both had their seat belts on, and therefore were not thrown out of the jeep.  However, Fred temporarily lost consciousness for about a minute and Cheryl was slammed into the dashboard with her right arm taking the force of the blow.

Luckily a woman EMT was driving down the road and went to their rescue.  The ambulance was called, and they were taken to the hospital.  Fred came out with a neck brace, but Cheryl had extreme arm and shoulder injuries.

Fred suspects that the thirty something male fell asleep at the wheel.  He was not hurt, nor was the Amish family.  The family sent them a letter several weeks later thanking them for saving their lives.  But the story doesn’t end there.

The settlement did enable Fred and Cheryl to get another car and pay for some of the medical expenses but it still involved thousands not covered, because Cheryl had and still has nerve damage.

But here is where the story takes a beautiful Thanksgiving turn.  Cheryl and Fred’s dream was to farm in the country.  Now in Amish country, they do not sell their land to non Amish people.  And as we all know, they are a tight knit community and word gets around.  Out of an extreme act of thanks, an exception was made.  Amish people sold Fred and Cheryl farm land where they built a house (with generosity from my uncles who helped all of us).  They now live within the Amish community.

It has been a mutual wonderful experience for all.  Because Fred drives, he can help the Amish people that do not drive, and because he was new to farming they helped him.  All three of Fred’s children are married and live within the area as well.  Cheryl went onto maternity nursing and either delivered or helped deliver many Amish babies over the years.

When I called Fred yesterday to make sure I had the details of the story correct, he told me he had just repeated the story yesterday to someone else. And it brought back the thought he had when he looked at his totalled car the day after the accident.  If my cousin Carol hadn’t taken their children to Florida, they would have been in that back seat which was totally destroyed.

Albert Pine once said, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”   Just imagine that Amish family with at least 3 or 4 children that lived.  They must have a lot of children of their own by now.  And the joy that Fred and Cheryl have on that farm is a dream come true.  And all the Amish children that Cheryl helped bring into the world, and even their own thankfulness that their own children were in the protective care of another cousin at that time.

The gift of thankfulness goes on and on and on.  Fred’s family in 2008 minus 1 grandchild not yet born.

So at this time of year, we all take the time to count our own blessings of family.  We have 3 less with us this year.  Actually, five less if you include my cousin Carol’s dog Katie and my dog Pepper.   I found out about my Uncle Bob Chylik’s death after the fact,  but he died in early October.  He was my mother’s brother, so he was a relative of Fred’s also.  (Uncle Bob was his mother’s first cousins.) And my step brother, Dr. Dennis Bekeny also died that same week.  In the Holasek family,  my Aunt Lillian Wilson’s  death was on Thanksgiving day.  Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday.   

And even if I can’t be with my cousin Carol and Uncle George in Strongsville, Ohio or see Fred’s family, or be with my brother Jonathan’s family in New Jersey, I am thankful for all of them.   And I am thankful for my extended family in Virginia,  Chicago, Pennsylvania, and my children and their children.  When we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal, our prayers will be for not only our own, but all families that they may know the closeness and love of family that I have experienced all my life.  I am so very grateful.

But a part of me this year will still be smiling thinking of Fred and his split second decision that touched so many lives.

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.