Midterm, the second semester of my senior year at Augie, I still worked the night shift–50 cents per hour from 11 pm to 7 am–at West Truck Haven Cafe on the northwest side of the West 12st Street overpass for the newly built Interstate 29, which by the end of the summer before in 1964, was somewhat close to Watertown. Once again, I was counter waitress, manning two big curved U’s that dipped towards the south, occasionally helping out the dining room waitress, who then was ten years younger than I am now. At Augie I took the remaining 11 hours to finish up my senior year. My first class was in the morning, Education Tests and Measurements with Dr. Oscar Oksol, who chided me once or twice for falling asleep. So boring that class was, but I learned about means and medians.
Classes, waitressing, and theatre activities exhausted me that semester, exhausted me more when blizzards swept the Interstate of cars and trucks and Greyhound busses; and some of the fearful, tired occupants slumped on stools at my counter while the rest crowded in the dining room. That rush of costumers, I was used to, for West Truck Haven, like Kirk’s Drive-Inn on the other side of the Interstate on the south side, always a great place for breakfast at 2 am after the bars closed, after 4 am when the nightclubs closed, after evening shifts ended at Morrell’s Meat Packing Plant, manufacturers, night-security shifts, police. But I was not used to working double shifts because other waitresses couldn’t make it. On a night of a particular blizzard, I twisted my right ankle. We were so busy that I didn’t notice the pain and the increased swelling in my ankle until there was a lull. After 18 hours or so when I was able to get back to my apartment on Summit Ave., my ankle was almost the size of a football, and black and blue. Because of poverty, behaviors instilled by my parents who demanded chores be done morning and night with no excuses, for my next shift, I wrapped my ankle in Ace bandages and shuffled through evening shifts until I was able to walk normally. I blame the sprain on cheap nurse’s shoes I wore, the only ones I could afford at Lewis Drug, the ankle unstable from the 1″ rubber soles.
During second-semester midterms, required exams in all classes, work and studying for tests and directing and acting and building sets, costuming, props merged into marathons. In the summer of 1964, I rented a basement apartment with another female student other than Edie, another student name I don’t remember now, nor really care to, for we really grew only to tolerate one another by the end of my senior year. The landlords were on the main floor, the husband once in a while peeking in through the transom window into our living room. I caught him one late spring night when I walked naked from the bedroom back to the bathroom for something. I looked up at that south window, the little light curtains open a foot a so, in time to hear rustling as someone ran away. When the upstairs’ back door opened and closed, I knew it had to be her or him; more than likely him, for he always scurried away whenever one of us girls came within sight.
At the end of the midterms, three days awake with only catnaps of fifteen minutes or so, my head on the kitchen table or my body in a fetal position on the sofa, I called my mom and begged the folks to get me a loan so I could get through the rest of the semester and the summer. $500 was all. A day later they called and said the bank agreed. Sometime during my first teaching year, I paid them back. It was only the second time I received money from the folks. The first was during Christmas vacation my second or third year at college. Mother took me into their bedroom and handed me an envelope containing $50, the largest amount of money I had ever seen at one time then. We both sat at the foot of the bed, Mom to my right. She had me hold out my hand and pressed the envelope into mine. I can still see her face, framed by the then shorn hair; her braids coiled like dun-colored snakes were placed in a covered wooden bowl, the bowl tucked on an end table placed next to the china cabinet. She whispered to me, this money is hard-earned, so spend it wisely and carefully, for there will be no more like this for some time, if ever.
My father had a heart attack in my junior college year. My older brother took over the farming, while Dad stayed bedridden for six weeks, that’s all. No insurance then or ever. Mom was uninsurable I’m sure after all the surgeries when we were little, and my father distrusted hospitals, fearing the cost. As my father said, we never had before or since a pot to piss in. The hogs that paid the folks’ way on the O’Boyle place from my junior year in high school up until my first year in college was no more, the result of over-vaccination covered up by a veterinarian who condemned the barn, saying that it was contaminated. Years later after the vet died, another vet told my father what had happened.
The deaths of the pigs happened within hours on the night before and early morning of my last day at home on a vacation. I remember my father and older brother hauling one dead pig or hog or sow after another out of the barn by its hoof. So distraught, his sadness so pervasive, one that results only in the heaving of a chest and silent tears, my father took a butcher knife and split open each pig from groin to sternum, as if butchering, and revealed lungs oozing blood, stomachs, abdomen. Somehow or other earlier my mother arranged for me to ride with the mailman to Denison to catch the bus back to Sioux Falls. From the back seat of the mailman’s car, with dead pigs laid like huge white grotesque slugs in an arc some 30 feet of the south barn door, the last sight I saw was my father with a butcher knife bent over the last one he or my brother drug out. I know he was sobbing as was my mother who stood on the porch of the house holding the hand of my five-year-old brother.