Annette Langer was only 18 and living in Chicago in 1962 when she was in a head-on auto collision on a snowy road in Virginia -- and this was before seatbelts.
"My car went airborne and down a 40-foot embankment," she said. "I was in a coma for 10 days, and they didn't expect me to live."
She had a four-inch blood clot on her brain and internal bleeding, she explained. Her recovery was slow, and to this day she has some head pain and lack of feeling on her right side.
This was when she learned that humor can help.
"I found the best thing to get me through any medical challenge was distraction, and the best distraction is humor," she said.
Langer went on to earn a degree in psychology and have a 26-year career with the federal government in a range of jobs, from court reporter to office manager. After an early retirement she returned to school to become a travel agent.
She found much that was funny in her years in the travel industry, even when dealing with stubborn clients. One woman could not understand tailwinds and was sure that flights east to west took longer due to passengers weighing more after eating all day, putting a drag on the plane.
Langer's family was always big on traveling, she said, adding, "My mom and I have visited all seven continents."
When Langer stayed at a Beijing hotel, she put in for a 7 a.m. wakeup call.
"The phone rang and I was expecting a cheery hello," she recalled.
Instead a sonorous voice loudly commanded: "Get up."
The year was 1980, and the age of tourism was just dawning in China.
"That's all he knew how to say," Langer noted with a laugh.
She also recalled that while in China, a young woman guide gave her information that had been requested by another tourist. When Langer pointed out the woman who had actually made the request, the embarrassed guide explained, "I am sorry, you all look alike."
Life continued to throw Langer curveballs -- including breast cancer and lesser illnesses and injuries. She always wrote to friends to share her latest plights, with a light touch and a comedic flare.
"Then I had a dear friend who said I had so many medical challenges over the years that I should write a book," she said.
Langer agreed it was a good idea but her brain injuries had resulted in some short-term memory loss.
"My friend said, 'I can help you out with that. When you write, you are so funny, I've saved all your emails,'" Langer remembered. "She ended up sending me over 500 emails written over the year. ... There were so many things I'd totally forgotten about."
Langer published her first book in 2005, "Healing through Humor: Change Your Focus, Change Your Life!"
"I just wanted to write something that would help others," Langer said.
Her second book was "A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the World: Diary of a Fearless Travel Agent."
Meanwhile Langer tired of the cold weather in Chicago and, at the urging of two cousins who live in Pleasanton, came for a long visit.
"They said, 'Why don't you come out and see if you can tolerate our winters,'" Langer said.
She moved to Pleasanton soon afterward, although that year, 1998, it rained from November to April. She wondered if she had made a mistake, but since then the weather has met with her satisfaction.
Langer continued to write and has contributed to the Livermore Wine Country Literary Harvest; O'Brien's Literary Speculator Bright Beginnings; Voices of the Valley, First Press; Voices of the Valley, Encore; and the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and "Not Your Mother's Book" series. She is also an active member of the California Writers Club.
Her books are for sale at Towne Center Books and the Pleasanton Senior Center Peddler Shoppe, and are in the Pleasanton and Livermore libraries. They also are available in print and e-books on Amazon.
In 2004, Langer attended the Pleasanton Police Department's Citizens' Academy, which led to her joining the ranks of its volunteers. She has helped to track burglar alarms, worked in the investigations unit with juvenile crimes, and in the property and evidence room, as well as other assignments.
She wrote one of the 101 stories in the recently published "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness," her fourth contribution to the best-selling series. Her story is titled, "Out of the Blue, a Family," and relates offering Officer Ryan Dawson a place to stay until he and his family found a new home. This act of kindness resulted in forming a bond with the Dawsons and becoming the children's grandmother No. 3, whom they dubbed "GrAnnette."
Langer is facing new challenges as she copes with a recurrence of her cancer, but she keeps her cheerful demeanor.
"I think you have a choice of how you want to respond," she said. "You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be sad. You cannot always control your pain but you can control your suffering -- and I choose not to suffer."