True Grit on a Sunday in January

The following article appeared in JFA newsletter no. 11, May 1996.

When Roland Junkins slipped and fell in his back woods in late January, he knew immediately that he had broken his hip. He had gone for a walk with his two dogs, Tanya and Cutter, in mid-afternoon. The temperature was twelve degrees above zero, but since he was to be gone from the house for only fifteen minutes, he wore a light jacket, a light pair of gloves, and no hat. He walked past his barn and his unused ice house, following a pasture road that led through a gap in a fieldstone wall about six hundred yards from his house, and into his high bush blueberry patch. He turned to begin the walk home and was instantly on his back. As he moved to get to his feet, he realized from his immobility and the pain, that something serious had happened. He said to his dogs, who were now beside him at eye level, "I just broke my hip."

The next four hours told everything one has to know about Roland Junkins, for it is a tale of courage, strength, perseverance, and level-headedness. On his back, with walking cane jammed into the snow and frozen ground over his head, he managed to drag himself six inches by six inches through six hundred yards of snow, freezing ground and puddles drawn from the earth by his warm body, and a few patches of "free ride" ice. When he couldn't pull himself on his back any further, he rolled onto his stomach and managed to push with his knees, planting the walking stick at arm's reach and pull-pushing for the six inch gain. He had no feeling in the knees as the skin came off layer by layer. One of his dogs, Tanya, soon had enough and headed back to the farmhouse. Cutter, Roland's new puppy, stayed with him, occasionally lapping his face as he struggled to gain homeward ground. Roland said later, "I never entertained the idea that I might not make it."

At the end of three hours, he had not made it, and had gotten only as far as his ice house. He could see the road where cars were occasionally passing. Soon, their headlights began to be turned on. He had another forty yards to the house. Inch by inch, he struggled, finally reaching the door to his shed, which connected to the house. For another hour and a half, he struggled to get inside and crawl to the telephone. He had to unlatch the outside door to his shed with his walking stick, held at arm's length and hooking the latch, then propping the door behind the frozen shoulder "wing" of his jacket and opening the inner door by tripping the latch with his walking stick, crawling into the shed, opening and passing through another door into the kitchen, across the kitchen floor, accumulating scatter rugs underneath him as he slid, and finally to the phone. He managed to call a neighbor up the road from his farmhouse, who dialed 911.

The next thing Roland knew, there were several strong young men standing around him and kneeling over him, comforting him and wrapping a survival coat-blanket over him and pumping it with hot air. He remembers hearing one of the men saying that his body temperature was down to 88 degrees, and three degrees lower and he would have died. Roland was suffering badly from hypothermia and chronic trembling, and almost instantly the wonderful warmth of the survival blanket took effect. As they carried him from the house to the ambulance, he remembers many cars and swirling red lights overhead in the night darkness. He now remembers most, how kind the rescue team was to him. Then, he was in the Franklin Hospital, and in a few hours was being operated on. The doctors expertly placed three screws into the cleanly broken hip. In his recuperating hospital bed, Roland said, "I never once was afraid that I was going to die. Actually, I never thought of it."

Today, Roland is walking with the help of a cane, and resupplying his immeasurable and remarkable strength. He spent his first month out of the hospital at the Sanford, Maine home of his nephew and niece, David and Linda Leck. Back in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, he is still the talk of the town.

Note: See also, Roland Winslow Junkins, Caretaker, an article about Roland's tending of the Junkins' burial grounds, Roland Winslow Junkins, Brother, an article written about Roland's 70th birthday celebration, and Roland Winslow Junkins a memorial article and poem written by his brother Donald Junkins.

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