Author Recounts Harrowing Childhood Tale

“Seven Springs” author Ellen Blum Barish. (Photo by Suzanne Plunkett)

Jewish writer and Chicago resident Ellen Blum Barish grew up in the Philadelphia area, living in Mt. Airy and attending the Germantown Friends School.

But for most of her life, a single troubling memory overshadowed an otherwise pleasant childhood: a car accident at the intersection of McCallum Street and Carpenter Lane. The 1972 accident left Barish with a missing tooth and jaw and neck pain, Barish’s friend in a coma and her friend’s mom, who was driving the car, in a wheelchair.

Barish learned decades later that, after that day, her parents filed a lawsuit to pay for her dental work, pitting the families’ insurance companies against each other. That was why, in the moment, her father told her not to talk about the accident, Barish said.

Now though, she is talking about it.

Barish, 62, has published a book, “Seven Springs: A Memoir,” about the accident and its impact on her friendship with Jenny, the other girl in the car. Barish, a Northwestern University writing teacher, worked on the book for five years but thought about it for well over a decade, she said.

Finally, with Jenny’s blessing, she published the 140-page book through Shanti Arts Publishing.

The author described the memoir on the back cover as: “A conversation between two former childhood friends at a high school reunion evokes a traumatic memory and sets a woman on a transformational journey.”

The conversation

In 1997, Barish returned to Philadelphia for her 20th high school reunion. Barish’s two best friends from Germantown were not in attendance, and her husband and two daughters were back in Chicago.

Barish was about to leave when she noticed Jenny, who she had not seen since graduation, in the front hall of the school. Suddenly, the memories came rushing back.

Their friendship before the accident, just two giggly young girls — Jenny was 13 at the time of the accident, Barish was 12 — jumping on the couch in Jenny’s basement, listening to The Who.

The destructive collision with the Mack truck.

The coma that caused Jenny to miss several months of school and she had to relearn to walk and talk.

The conversation in which Barish told Jenny, now back in school, that she couldn’t talk to her.

Barish, who didn’t remember all the details from the accident itself, asked Jenny if she did. Jenny looked her in the eye and recounted them in a tone that Barish described as “reportorial.”

But the women still agreed to exchange numbers and talk more.

The journey

Courtesy of Shanti Arts Publishing

Barish’s book is called “Seven Springs” because she would always think about the springtime accident during the season of rebirth. After the reunion, she even visited Mt. Airy again to look deeper into what happened and to try to process it.

She interviewed her parents, talked to her two best friends from high school and dug through old journals and papers. She even visited the accident site.

But Barish didn’t really learn anything new, she said. Nonetheless, in 2006, she emailed Jenny, asking if her old friend would be willing to talk to her for a nonfiction book about the accident.

Jenny said no.

“So then I put it away,” Barish said.

And she started to work on herself, she added. The writer reconnected with her faith by reading Torah. She meditated, did yoga and went to therapy. But the weight was still there.

So, she returned to the area for her 40-year reunion, and she called Jenny to make a dinner plan.

“My goal that night was to apologize,” Barish said.

Barish picked up Jenny at her home in North Wales and drove to a nearby Olive Garden. It was a Monday night and hardly anyone else was in the restaurant. The women were free to talk candidly, and they did for more than three hours.

Barish apologized and Jenny told her there was no need. They had both been told to be silent in those days, they reminded each other.

Jenny reminded Barish that Barish had visited her in the hospital after the accident.
“I hadn’t remembered that,” the author said.

Finally, toward the end of the night, Jenny told Barish that she needed to write about their experience. Barish gulped and then started crying.

She had already started thinking about the memoir. But she wanted Jenny’s blessing before following through.

“We realized it was unhealthy to not talk about horrible things that happened to you,” the author said.

Barish talked to Jenny over the phone once a month during the writing process. Now, the women see each other whenever the author visits the area.

“It’s a friendship,” Barish said.

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