“Tell the Pooda Ooda Dooda that I love him,” were the last words I ever heard my sister say as she stepped out of my car to climb into her 1985 Camaro.
I remember thinking as my twin sister, Paula Terry, was opening the door to her car, “I love her so much.” I did not want her to go home, so I just sat in my car and watched her get situated, for the car to start, then felt a twinge in my stomach and began waving my hands wildly to get Paula’s attention. But her mind was already fixed upon the 90 minute commute from Northeastern State University where we attended to Miami, Oklahoma, where she lived with her husband and our younger sister.
Paula and I had such a wonderful time that day. We laughed, talked and sang along to the radio with one another. She fixed my hair, we helped each other with assignments soon due. Paula, always the wise twin, gave me advice on motherhood and the importance on staying on top of circumstances so they did not turn into issues. That day we also hung out at Wal-Mart and made a quick run through the McDonald’s drive-thru for lunch. Later, we walked together in the spring sun and enjoyed the fresh air. There was no indication that this would be the day or my sister’s death.
As she approached her ultimate destination, Paula stopped at the convenience store in Jay, Oklahoma, where she always did and called her husband. This was before the days of the ubiquitous cell phone, telling him she loved him and that she would soon be home. She was 45 minutes from home.
Paula was never particularly fond of bridges. In Drivers Education she would drive in the middle of a four lane highway while on a bridge. Looking back, I am struck by that memory because just before she approached the second bridge that evening in Grove, Oklahoma, a pickup truck swerved wildly into her lane, plowed onto the hood of the Camaro, ramping off the windshield and passenger compartment and crushed the life out of my precious, innocent twin.
Ambulances arrived to clean up the after effects brought about by a drunk driver’s decision. Reporters photographed my sister receiving medical treatment on the hard asphalt until her blood stopped flowing and she passed from this life. The drunk driver was seriously wounded but alive, his passenger paralyzed for life.
But stories such as this don’t end with the stopping of a heart or the clearing of an oily, bloody road. Now, everyone had to be told what had happened to Paula. The Grove hospital phoned Paula’s husband and informed him that his young wife had been in a serious car wreck. He and our younger sister rushed to the hospital only to have their worst fears confirmed with news of Paula’s death. And now the excruciating weight of giving such news to all who needed to hear it shifted to him. I remember I was sitting in front of my computer typing out an assignment. My toddler son - Pooda Ooda Dooda to my Paula – was playing on the floor, my husband watching television. The phone rang and my life, my world was changed forever.
Paula died on a Monday and, until the funeral on Friday, the telephone rang with relentless frequency. My mailbox was packed and my home was full of people. I could not believe how many lives Paula had touched. And they wanted to be there for those who loved her so much that she had left behind. They were there then and they remain today. Her funeral was swollen with family and friends, the church filled with tears, her grave hidden beneath flowers.
Paula was only six weeks from attaining our shared goal of earning our degrees after five years of struggle. My heart sank when thinking about that. That we both wanted so badly to walk across that stage and receive our degrees. That Paula had been robbed of that opportunity at no fault of her own.
Paula was posthumously awarded her degree, her name called out at the graduation. I was told that was the only time in the history of Northeastern State University that anyone was honored in such a manner.