South of Westside, Iowa, on bloody Highway 30, and north of Manning stands a lone building, at least that is what I remember, called the Five Mile House. If not a dance at Manilla, sometimes in addition to a dance at Manilla, the Five Mile House would be rocking. It was sort of off limits, my parents not wanting any of us kids to go there. It was wilder, tougher, fights were known to break out. And there was Rock ‘n’ Roll, and lots of hard liquor. My folks would go once in a while, but we could never tag along. But one summer when I came home for a time from college, a guy I was dating took me there, and, yes, he fought over me. Apparently someone was flirting with me, or I was flirting with him, and my date pummeled the guy. Today I still remember the booth, towards the back on the east of the dance floor. It happened so fast, the guy who flirted I can’t even remember a feature, no grin, nothing, three punches and he was laid low. Later in my life after I read Joyce Carol Oates‘ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” that scene comes to mind, but my date was Arnold Friend and Ellie all rolled into one. My date was short and stocky, like Ellie, and he had a funny laugh, like Ellie, but the eruption of violence, the threat of stepping out of line, he was Arnold. I remember my date reached across from me to hit him, sliding up at the same time, then over the side of the booth until all was quiet, at least in our little area. But nothing else surrounding us stopped. The band kept playing, the couples danced, conversations so loud that it seemed we were in the midst of cicadas. I dated him off and on over the next few months, until we had a flat tire in Earling, and I crawled in the door at 3 am. My father got me up at 4, ordering me to do chores, saying over his coffee the later I get in, the earlier I get up. I did date one of his friends later, that I regret a lot more.
I had been around violence before, for although my father was at heart gentle, he raised us tough, in much the same way that he was raised I assume, but I can’t believe that of my grandfather. I disliked and feared my father until in my 20s and feared and was timed around men for much of my life because I feared my father.