Almost Died

by Billy Norman

This is an article about my daughter, Chipper. Chipper, who is 42 years old, is always referring to times when she "almost died" while growing up. She is not exaggerating.

#1 Almost Died - Babies are 5 days old; Chipper on the left It all started on the day she was born. I came into the house and told Sandy I was leaving for Denver to buy another ready mix truck. We lived in Belle Fourche, S. Dak. She said to me that if I went I would miss seeing our twins being born. She convinced me to stay around. Sandy called Dr. Marousek, he told her it couldn't be because they would be 2 months early. She convinced him and he said for her to come on in. We already knew we were going to have twins.

My son, Randy was born first and my daughter, Kelli Jo, later nick named Chipper was born a few minutes after Randy. He pushed his head thru and made it easy for her. I called her Chipper because she looked just like that Walt Disney Chipmunk, perfect round face and great big eyes. She only weighed about 2 pounds. Dr. Marousek took me out in the hallway and told me not to expect much. She probably would not live thru the night. The twins were put into an incubator for 4 weeks. That was the first "Almost Died."

#2 "Almost Died" Chipper was 3 years old and we were moving to Alaska. We were driving up the Alcan Hwy in the dead of winter. We stopped at the hot water springs in Canada. I had all 3 kids in the water. I looked around and no Chipper. I looked down in the water at my feet and there she was laying on the bottom with her eyes wide open, staring at me, holding her arms out at me to pick her up. Do I love this baby or what?

#3 "Almost Died" Two nights later we backed our van off the Alcan Hwy into some brush. It was around midnight. We fell asleep and a couple of hours later we heard a train coming. It blew it's horn when a few feet from us. It made the van shake when it passed. It scared the living hell out of us all. I looked in the morning and I had backed up about 3 or 4 feet from the railroad tracks. I had no idea they were there. Our drinking water froze during the night. Sandy then proceeded to make us breakfast on a Coleman Stove on the floorboards. It took us 9 days to reach Eagle River, Alaska.

#4 "Almost Died" One afternoon after school the phone rang. It was Mary Scholton, a neighbor on Big Lake. She said my twins were walking on ice that had frozen the night before. I raced over there and got them off the ice. It's a wonder they didn't go thru. I would probably have died also when I went in after them. They said they wanted to see how far out on the ice they could go. They were about 8 or 9 at the time. Needless to say they got their asses whipped.

#5 Almost Died - Chip on a boogie board #5 "Almost Died" It probably took about 3 or 4 years for the next almost died. I am guessing Chipper was about 10 or 11. Randy, Chip, Jami, our oldest daughter and I were out water skiing on boogey boards. We were on Big Lake, Alaska in front of our home. I pulled Randy and Chip together. I would put my thumb up in the air and they would both stand up at the same time. Each board had a strap with Velcro you put over your knees to hold you on. I was pulling Chipper by herself and she tipped the board over. I looked back from the boat and all I could see was her board. I whipped the boat around and when I went by the board, I dove into the water while the boat was still moving. My son, Randy, grabbed the controls. I flipped the board over and Chipper was stuck under the board. She had slid thru the strap up to her armpits. That was a close one.

#6 "Almost Died" Chip was 12 or 13. We were snowmobiling at our cabin on Sheep Creek. There were 4 of us, me, Randy, Cass (a friend) and Chipper. We were racing down a tributary that leads into Sheep Creek. It was frozen. About every couple hundred yards was a beaver dam. They were 3 or 4 feet high. We would jump off them. The first 3 of us over broke the ice. When Chipper hit the open water she should have given it more throttle - instead it scared her and she let go of the throttle. The snowmobile sunk. She was able to crawl off the snowmobile and onto on the frozen ice. We spent several hours getting the sled out of the river.

#7 "Almost Died" This probably happened the same year as #6. Chip and I were snowmobiling. Our cabin was way up on a bluff overlooking Sheep Creek. Chip followed me to a trail that went down over the bluff. About half way down the trail you must take a sharp turn to your right because of big trees. I went first around the sharp bend. I was worried, with good reason, about Chip. It was 50 yards down to the bend, almost straight down. I knew she was scared shitless. She drove the machine to the edge. She was teeter tottering. The throttle is on one side and the brake lever on the other. When she went over the edge she grabbed both levers at once. She started going past me at 30 to 40 MPH. I reached out, wrapped my arm around her stomach and picked her clean off of the snowmobile. Her machine kept going. It literally snapped off a couple of trees about 6 feet off the ground. It finally hit a 6" tree and stopped cold. The damage was extensive. It took a new hood, windshield, skis and lots more but Chipper made it. 'Almost died' is a true story on that one.

#8 Almost Died - Actually, she was a good shot! #8 "Almost Died" Chipper, Randy (they were about 13 or 14) and I went duck hunting on the mud flats on the Cook Inlet. That is where the Big Susitna River has it's outlet into the ocean. We hired Larry Thompson with his 180 Cessna to take us out. I knew we were in trouble when he took the toothpick out of his mouth and stuck it in the stall warning signal on the underside of the wing. We saw a black bear before we landed.

We landed on a small lake. We hauled our gear bout 1/4 mile out into the mud flats. It was just about dark and the twins fixed supper. We were hungry and it was delicious. We crawled into our sleeping bags. Nature called and I got up to go. I stepped in water. The ocean had come up into our camp. I had forgotten about the tide. If we had waited another 5 minutes, the water would have been in our sleeping bags. We grabbed our gear and made a run for a mud flat hooch. It was built up on stilts or piling. After we got there, I was really thirsty so I asked Chipper to get me a pop out of the food bag. She reached in the bag and came out with a handful of raw eggs. The eggs had broken in the bag. I thought she was going to throw up. I let the kids have all of the scrambled eggs for breakfast and I had a steak. We slept there all night. I left the owner a note and some money.

We got some ducks the next morning. Larry flew back the next day about 2:00 PM. After we loaded we tried to get off the small lake but we couldn't do it, we were overloaded. Larry wanted to burn off some fuel to lighten the load so he just kept going around the small lake in circles until we could take off. We finally made it up and back to Big Lake.

Oh, he put the toothpick in the stall warning so his passengers wouldn't get nervous if the warning went off.

#9 "Almost Died" This one was by far the worst. We were moving from Alaska to Bellingham, Wash. Jami stayed in Alaska. Sandy and Randy flew back, and Chipper, who was 15 years old, and I drove back. We were pulling a trailer. Just before we got to the USA leaving Canada we had lots of semi trucks going the same direction as us. There were mountains on our left and the Royal Gorge on our right. There were as many trucks coming at us as our lane. I was driving way to fast and the highway was all two lanes. I was going 70 or 80 MPH and decided to pass the truck in front of us. I got almost around him when here comes a semi straight at us. We didn't have one second to spare. Needless to say I finished the trip at about 50 mph. I dreamed about that for years, I still do. Way too close for comfort.

I have had more "almost died" over the years. I was a pilot in Alaska. Many times it was too close for comfort. The ones listed above are the ones that Chipper was involved. Chipper now is a terrible worry wart about her kids. They are not allowed to do most things.