Doris Day, who died on May 13 at the age of 97, was a celebrity with whom I’ve always felt a connection. I first became familiar with her in 1956 when her hit song “Que Sera, Sera” – played on our big new Chrysler’s car radio.
At the time, our family was driving home to North Hollywood following a Fourth of July party in Culver City. As my dad drove, I sat wide awake on my mother’s lap in the front, and my older sister slept in the back seat. While motoring along the dark Sepulveda Pass, my mom sang the tune with Miss Day: “When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me: Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be…”
Moments later, an uninsured wrong-way drunk driver plowed into us head-on. It was a brutal crash, but thanks to our (totaled) vehicle’s tank-like front end, we survived. As the ambulances came for us, a CHP officer told my hysterical mother that he’d never seen people make it out alive following such a hit. We all had different injuries, but my father received the payload of the impact and spent many months in the hospital with a severely broken back. Of course, the drunk didn’t even sustain a cut.
Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
Such a violent, anticlimactic end to a beautiful day and evening.
For most of my years, I felt terribly unlucky that we suffered that crash. Why us? That wrong-way demon drastically changed our lives, particularly financially and emotionally, as my father had serious lingering physical issues that affected his ability to work and thrive.
Regrettably, I became a girl who often focused on “the bad” that could happen instead of looking forward to the wonder and blessings that abound in life – such as a family miraculously surviving a high-speed head-on collision. Seat belts hadn’t even been invented yet.
As I now read obits on Doris Day –, singer, actress, devout animal welfare activist, — I realize that she had her own share of traumas. A car crash at 15 shattered her leg and plans of becoming a professional dancer. Among her four marriages, she experienced physical and mental abuse and financial ruin. Her only child, record producer Terry Melcher, died at 62 from melanoma. Yet, she made it to almost 100, and maintained her sunny outlook, strength, world-wide friendships, and passion for saving mankind’s four-legged best friends. Truly a survivor of life, and master of adaptation.
RIP in peace, Doris Mary Kappelhoff. Thank you for a lifetime of entertainment. And special thanks for the heads-up on one very difficult but ultimately fortuitous summer night. It took me a long time to appreciate those lyrics.
The future’s not ours to see, que sera, sera….
We’re not meant to be all-omniscient beings, and sometimes, most of the time, that’s an extraordinarily awesome phenomenon.
Diana Sevanian is a retired R.N. and longtime Signal columnist and features writer.