Monday, April 26, 2010


Grade twelve is one of life's many dichotomies. A time where it seems that you have one foot still in your childhood and the other in young adulthood. Straddling the chasm between the past and the future, the road that lays ahead looks both challenging and daunting. The fear of the unknown, expectations of the future, questions about one's potential mate, future occupation, etc., all combine to fill you with uncertainty.

June rolls around and there is excitement in the air. Final exams, graduation and parting with friends that you might never see again all converge as the school year draws to an end.

June 4th, 1979, the Saturday before we were to graduate, a group of teenagers were partying in a neighboring town. Drinking, combined with poor judgment, led these teens to play chicken that fateful afternoon. On a long stretch of road east of their town, the two cars met head-on with disastrous results. A tragic loss of life was the outcome. The next morning, the whole town was buzzing with this horrible news. A girl in our class was meant to have been in one of the cars. At the insistence of her parents, she had come to a class function that was being held for us at our school.

The Sunday afternoon after the tragedy, was a beautiful spring day. Phil Callaway and I decided to take his Ford Maverick and drive up to the town to see if we could find the cars. We had no idea what we were about to witness. It seems macabre, but we were young, curious and always looking for an adventure. Endless blue skies lay before us as we headed north on Highway 21 that afternoon. After arriving, we quickly found the wrecking yard where the two cars had been towed. Today, accident vehicles are normally locked away from public view. As I recall, one car was a Javelin and the other a Charger. Both of these cars were crushed almost beyond recognition. There was not a pane of glass left in either car. The motor of one car was nowhere to be found. Maybe it was still in the ditch? The shaft of the steering wheel was completely through the front seat of one of the cars. We could still make out the speedometers and they were stuck at well over 100 miles an hour. Blood, bottles and glass lay strewn about both vehicles.

A hundred thoughts race though your head in times like these. The knot in my stomach was real and it hurt. I was in complete shock at what I was seeing. I was trying hard to process my thoughts. Numb, I thought about the decisions I had made and had yet to make in my life. I grieved for their family and friends. I thought about my friends. I thought about my own family. Knowing that most of these kids were my age made the whole scene seem so real. I wondered how a loving God could ever allow this to happen. We were speechless. Looking closer into one of the cars, something caught my eye. There, amidst the horrific carnage, seemingly untouched by the wreck, lay a copy of an 8-track tape. There were other 8-tracks scattered around the interior, some with their tape pulled out of the shells, lying about like long brown shoelaces. Others were crushed, their titles unrecognizable. I think we all have defining moments in our lives and this was certainly one for me. The concept of consequence seemed very close to home.

The tape that caught my attention and seemed to be staring right back at me was a copy of Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy. The cover art for Houses of the Holy was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. The ending involves several hundred million naked children, only slightly physically resembling the human race in basic forms. It is a collage of several photographs which were taken at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. In every way this was a most eerie sight. As I stood there on that hot June day, I remarked to Phil, "This is not very Holy." It was surreal.

The drive back to Three Hills was deathly quiet except for the engine hum of the little Maverick. Both of us were shocked at what we had seen, the images indelibly burned into our brains. I remember Phil remarking that if those two cars could be toured around and displayed at high schools around the province it would have a very sobering effect. We never talked much about that day.

I am not casting any blame or aspersions on Led Zeppelin as I think they are one of the seminal groups of their era. I own a number of Led Zeppelin titles in my library, but the one title that I have never bought and have never listened to, is Houses Of The Holy . . . I've just never had the stomach.

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.


  1. Childhood's End indeed ... the end of childhood, certainly, for those in the two cars. The end of life itself.

    But for you too, the end of a loss of a certain innocence: the childlike innocence of thinking that because God loves us, nothing too bad will happen.

    And finding Houses of the Holy pristine in all the rubble! A cover portraying two children in a baffling, confusing photoshoot that didn't turn out as expected. Sort of like that evening ride and game of chicken.

    The Rain Song is on this albumn. It talks about the seasons of life, spring, summer, winter, all wrapped in an aching melody. Interesting that you approach this memory again now, having lived through several seasons and having gained the perspective of the last verse:

    "This is the wonder of devotion -
    I see the torch we all must hold
    This is the mystery of the quotient -
    Upon us all a little rain must fall"

    Interesting too that Houses of the Holy, a symbol of defiance and confusion back then, was the one thing that remained intact in the detritus of the defiance and confusion presented to your eyes that fateful day. Could its dreadful presence at that dreadful scene possibly have been a double negative? Could it possibly have been a note from God saying that in that awful place that day, He was actually there - that those cars with their empty bottles and their speedometers frozen and their glass fragments tinkling hollowly whenever anything was moved was a reminder that He HAD been present, taking the place of your friend who stayed behind at the insistence of her parents?

    A House for the Holy. Intact and steadfast at the core of the needless tragedy. Awe-ful. Holy Ground.

  2. read this to our teens today...