Photo: Hachette Book Group
I was snuggled in my mother's arms in the backseat of the old Buick. My dad's Air Force buddy was at the wheel, driving us from Fort Dix Air Force Base to Colorado, where Dad was being transferred. I'd been born into a military family, making my first move by car at three weeks old, since blacks were rarely seen on trains. And, of course, there was no way we could afford to fly, even if planes had been available. I was born in Winston-Salem, where my dad's family lived. My parents had expected their visit to North Carolina to last three to four days before they returned to Colorado, where Mom would give birth to me. But it seemed that between the intense heat, the long hours of relaxation, and the large mouthfuls of ripe, juicy watermelon she ingested, my mom went into early labor with me. She was uncomfortable having her baby in Winston-Salem. She'd wanted to be safe and sound in Colorado when I was born, with her own family around her. Apparently I had other plans.
Now Dad was in the passenger seat, riding shotgun, while his buddy drove the old '48 crank Buick with no seat belts, which no one had as yet. In the backseat, the driver's wife was carrying a goldfish in a bowl of water, and Mom was carrying me. As we rode along the New Jersey Turnpike, a car sped down the on-ramp, passed us, and suddenly shot out onto the road right in front of us. As Dad's friend swerved to miss the car cutting us off, our Buick rolled over three times and came to a stop at the side of the turnpike, its wheels beneath it. We all got out. Mom had never let go of me, and everyone in the car walked away without a scratch—except the goldfish, who died from oxygen inhalation. That was my first stunt.