Decades After Daring Rescue, 2 Tennesseans Relive Christmas Miracle

Dec 23, 2016
Originally published on December 23, 2016 12:00 pm

On Dec. 24, 1956, when Judy Charest was 3 months old, her father went to take a shower and when he came out, Judy and her mother, Marguerite Hunt, were gone.

"She had driven to the Shelby Street Bridge, and with me in her arms, she jumped 90 feet," Judy recounts for 90-year-old Harold Hogue during a recent visit to StoryCorps in Nashville, Tenn.

Harold, who worked as an engineer with the Nashville Bridge Co. at the time, was part of a group of people who ran to the river after someone spotted her mom floating in it.

"She was hollerin', 'Save my baby!' And my good friend, Jack Knox, jumped in the river at that point," he says. "But it was cold. My gosh it was cold. And so when Jack first handed you to me I just started running up the bank. And after two or three steps I heard the baby grunt. I thought, 'This is too good to be true, she's still alive.' It was a miracle."

Twenty-one years passed before Judy found out what happened that Christmas Eve.

"Growing up, I just never knew," she says. "Christmas Day, Daddy would hold me tight and I always wondered why."

Judy's mom was hospitalized after that event and years later diagnosed with bipolar manic depression. She died last year.

"But when they began to treat her illness, she just had a wonderful life," Judy says.

Harold didn't know the name of the baby he ran up the bank with that day, and for years wondered what had happened to her. When the two met again in 2015, it was an emotional reunion.

"We hugged for a long time, and it was so familiar," says Judy, who is now 60 years old. "You know, if it hadn't been for you I would not be here today. And, uh, I want you to be remembered as a very wonderful humble man, but most of all a hero."

Self-effacingly, Harold says, "I feel undeserving, but thank you."

Jack Knox, who dove into the river twice to bring both Judy and her mother to safety, died in 2005.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Von Diaz.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it is Friday morning, the Friday before Christmas - time again for StoryCorps. And today we have a conversation from Nashville, Tenn., between two people who reunited last year after almost 60 years.

JUDY CHAREST: My name is Judy Charest.

HAROLD HOGUE: My name is Harold Hogue.

CHAREST: And Mr. Hogue here, he's my hero.

INSKEEP: Judy and Harold first met on Christmas Eve 1956, when Judy was only 3 months old. At the time, her mother was suffering from depression. And if it wasn't for Harold and his coworker being in the right place at the right time, that Christmas might have ended in tragedy.

CHAREST: December the 24 - my dad went in to take a shower. And when he came out, Momma was gone with me. And she had driven to the Shelby Street Bridge. And with me in her arms, she jumped 90 feet.

HOGUE: On that day, I looked down to the river, and I saw this woman floating by. She was hollering, save my baby. And my good friend, Jack Knox, jumped in the river at that point, but it was cold. My gosh, it was cold. So when Jack first handed you to me, I just started running up the bank. And after two or three steps, I heard the baby grunt. I thought, this is too good to be true; she's still alive. It was a miracle. When did you first find out that your mother jumped in the river with you?

CHAREST: When I was 21. Growing up, I just never knew. Christmas Day, Daddy would hold me tight, and I always wondered why.

CHAREST: What happened to your mother after that event? She was hospitalized and then diagnosed with bipolar manic depression. But when they began to treat her illness, she just had a wonderful life. Did you ever wonder what had happened to me after that?

HOGUE: I wondered a lot. I didn't know your name. I didn't know who you were, anything else.

CHAREST: What do you remember about the first time that we met?

HOGUE: Well, I told you about the first time, when you were a baby.

(LAUGHTER)

HOGUE: No, I just remember it was a very emotional time.

CHAREST: We hugged for a long time.

HOGUE: Yeah, we did.

CHAREST: And it was so familiar. You know, if it hadn't been for you, I would not be here today. And I want you to be remembered as a very wonderful, humble man, but most of all, a hero.

HOGUE: That's very pleasant to hear that. It really is. I feel undeserving, but thank you.

INSKEEP: Harold Hogue and Judy Charest at StoryCorps in Nashville. Judy's mother died last year. And Jack Knox, the man who dove into the river twice to bring both Judy and her mother to safety, died in 2005. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.