Studebaker

The last time I saw Denny, he drove up to Sioux Falls in my junior college year at Augustana  to see me. His wife and child had died, killed in an automobile accident, if I remember down Hwy. 59, down that curved road south of Denison. I hadn’t seen him since my high school graduation, when I noticed him sitting towards the back of the auditorium. He came to graduation, I thought for me; but I found out after, he and another female classmate, another graduate, were riding around together.  Somebody told me, somebody I don’t remember but someone I felt she said as a dig.  I was devastated, felt betrayed.  But my parents took me to graduation and I had to leave with them, and I didn’t drive.  In fact, my father refused to teach me to drive.  I wound up teaching myself the year after I graduated from college when I bought a Ford for $150, one that sucked more oil than used gas.

That night, to find Denny, to see for sure if he was with another,  I snuck out of the house and into the shed that served as our garage. The trickiest part was sliding open the shed door without waking up my parents, for any night on an Iowa farm, the cherished quiet was the norm.  I started up the Studebaker, that I knew how to do, but didn’t turn on the headlights until after I had left the land and drove west a quarter of a mile.  After a mile I turned south and headed towards Manilla. About a mile north, I got cold feet, didn’t want to make a fool of myself, as I was often warned not to do by my parents, and tried to turn the car around and head back.  I knew my father would be quite upset.  In a farmer’s driveway, one whenever I drive by heading to Ridge Road on the way to and from Denison, I cringe, from shame more than likely the result of  my stupidity,  I hung up the car in a ditch.  The right wheel spinning in air on the side of the culvert.  I don’t remember how my father was notified, or if he was notified at all, but just happened to show up.   But if my parents were called  by the farmer, the quiet of that night betraying me then, it was because then everyone in that small community  knew which  car was  what family’s.  In a short time it seems,  my father came down with the tractor and pulled out the Studebaker. Nothing was said that night to me, nor the next day.  Nothing happened that night to me, nor the next day. And I don’t know how the car got back to the farm, but I know I didn’t drive it.

Three years later, Denny said on the phone  that he wanted to see if we could work it out, if he missed something.  I hung out with Augie theatre people then, and as we all know theatre people are pretty wild, and maybe we were then, wild as theatre people can get in a Christian college, which is not wild at all.  I lived off campus with two other girls in the basement of a home owned by a female real estate magnate, at least that is what she seemed to us.  She acted  pretty mysterious too.  We often joked about all her brothers who came to visit;  one in particular.  We drank a lot in that basement.  A huge furnace, one with thick stacks like an octopus, centered the apartment. We skirted around it to enter the one bedroom on the east with two huge beds. The room next to the bedroom on the north  and to the left of the furnace was a small living room in which we pilled empty  beer cars on top of one another against the walls as sort of decoration. In there, no television then, not much of anything to listen to at all in that place, a radio in the kitchen I remember, and a vinyl record player in the living room.  Barbra Streisand, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Janice Joplin, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary.   In that room we necked with our boyfriends.  At the bottom of the stairs that led in from the west,  a galley kitchen with a small white porcelain table and two chairs.  One day I counted over 70 visitors came in and out of the place, down the steps, slamming the door, getting something out of our refrigerator, to smoke a cigarette or drink a beer in the afternoon, some the same.  Grand Central Station across the street from Tuve Hall.  Needless to say, what studying we girls did was done on campus, which was less than a block away.  But we were all smart, remembering what we read and discussed what we remembered, synthesizing our information to make sense of the world.

Denny and I didn’t do anything that night either, although he tried, as all boys tried.  Not that I was virginal; I just didn’t want to anymore.  I think he married again, but I don’t know.  Someone much later told me that she saw Denny mowing the grass in front of this business in Denison.  I think he’s dead.

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