That guy from Earling and I never did anything more than neck–of course he tried, as all boys tried back then–but my father somehow would have found out, and there would have been hell to pay. Before, a guy who was dating someone I called a friend then, not now by any means, told her that he wanted to break up with her and date me. He was so tall, 6’7″, that at the Denison theater he had to drape his legs over the seat in front of him. Stretch, he was called. Mutt and Jeff, we were called. Never knew why that moniker stayed with us. That movie house was known then and now as the Donna Reed theatre. Denny bragged that he shook Donna Reed’s hand when she rode in a 4th of July parade. I only saw her on the Donna Reed show and in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I liked him, but I broke up with him when he tried to go too far. One night on the way to Manilla, Denny pulled over and opened some beer.  He wanted me to drink some, but I refused.

We dated during my junior year and senior year. In the summer, he would come and pick me up in his ’57 Chevy. One hot, humid, sultry night, a night with little breeze, we came back to the farm before curfew and started necking right there in the lane under the yard light, the kind of necking where heads do not rise about a rolled-down window. Funny thing about memories, some images last forever. I remember hearing the shotgun before I saw my father, the click, click to put the shell in the chamber. A hot night, and through the window, hot and heavy on the seat, I heard it in that quiet night. Denny raised up and said, “I best be going.” Then I did too, and saw my father standing in front of the screen door, the shotgun in his hands. I don’t think I kissed Denny before I left the car. I remember that still, the raised head right after the sound, my seeing my father with the gun in his arms ready to be shot.


Five-mile House

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.

Memorial Hall

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project Here is my #iamsubject story.

In Iowa, up until I graduated from high school, our family lived on four different farmsteads, on one prior to my first memories when Dad had hired himself out to the Holloways, a man who always respected my father. I was born in a nursing home before my father came home from the service, conceived before they married: Foderberg’s Nursing Home. In fact, all three of us, the second batch of children, were born at Foderberg’s, a two-story clapboard house with pillars in front, modest and unassuming even in those times, I’m sure. Mother pointed it out to me once as I was driving her back from uptown. I remember thinking why I never knew before where it stood, and I had lived around this area up until I graduated from high school. My older sister’s father died when she was five from tuberculosis. I am not sure where she was born.

Foderberg’s is still standing. It is a little ways south of Main Street, or what surpasses as main street in that small town of Manilla. Then it was probably more livelier than the town is now with its three bars, mini-grocery store (I think Tiny’s is still there), two gas stations kitty-cornered from one another: one a mini-mart; the other, just gas. One gas station for conversation, ice cream cones, sundries on the weekends, and lottery; the other just gas. Both for cigarettes still, I assume. A seed company still exists down from Rocky’s I believe, although the last time I went home, I thought the place looked pretty bare. The doctor’s office is now gone. Mom always complained about the doctors that practiced there after Dr. Hennessey retired.

During my teenaged years, on the drag down the center of town, ’57 Fords and Chevys and others braked and squealed and rolled down windows and chatted and exchanged girls, from one back seat to another, that is if the girls pushed the seat forward and shoved the driver into the steering wheel to scoot out or if the boys in the other car enticed the girls from the other car. We knew we had to move, if the driver in the other car, opened the back seat so we could crawl in behind. I never learned the unwritten rule.

The other stop we teenagers made at that time was the bowling alley, especially after football. I played in the marching band, piccolo or cymbals, the oboe too fragile for kicking up clods in the turf. In the girls’ bathroom at the bowling alley, cheerleaders sprayed themselves stinky with perfume to hide the sweat from doing the splits high in the air. I remember a couple of them dousing themselves with perfume, squirting their blue felt skirts front and back, suffocating the rest of us who were smashed in that bathroom like sardines.

The dark-haired cheerleader was the first to call it whore juice in my presence. Linda, the cheerleader in my class, laughed. My mother would have slapped my mouth if I said such a thing. Those two had a reputation, at least that is what I was told, having been at this new school since March of my junior year, a tough time for a teenager not skinny as a rail.

I didn’t smoke then, at least openly, although I would sneak one of my mother’s sometimes when I did chores, slopping the hogs especially, for I could hide it while carrying a slop bucket up the hill from the barn to the hog pen; the five-gallon slop bucket on my left side and a lit cigarette between my fingers on my right, the side away from the bay window, just in case she peeked out. A five-gallon bucket full of slop is heavy; one usually has to balance the weight with the other arm raised like pump handle and that was tough to do with a lit cigarette between the fingers. From the slop to the troughs at top of the hill, as long as I was in sight, I never put the cigarette to my mouth, and kept it hidden, that is until my aunt nudged my mother with a notion that I was smoking a cigarette, for she saw smoke trailing behind me like a pendant. At the top of the hill, out of sight from the bay window, I put the cigarette in my mouth while both hands lifted the bucket over the fence and sloshed the dregs from milking, the potato peels, leftovers, if there were any, into the hog trough.

And then there was the Memorial Hall. Almost every week, especially in the summer, dances with live bands who made the circuit throughout the small southwestern towns stretching out of Omaha, Nebraska, up through to Carroll, Iowa, and back, playing polkas and waltzes. Once in a blue moon, a rock and roll song excited us teenagers. We went because our parents went. Dad glided around the sanded floor waltzing with Mom, with this neighbor lady, with that, with me or my sister. I learned to waltz following the rhythm of my father’s shoes; polka still is beyond me.

The dance hall was on the upper level; beer and sandwiches in the lower level, all ran by the Legion. Two sets of stairs on either side led from the hall down to beer and sandwiches. Mom served sandwiches along with the others in the Auxiliary, and Dad tended bar along with the Legionnaires. On the landing of the front set of stairs, a door opened directly to street level. If I mix myself in with others coming down the stairs, Mom wouldn’t see me and I could sneak out the side door that opened on street level and go for a ride with some other kids, in one of their cars. Once when I came back on a weekend from college, a handsome boy asked me if I could have a drink. I asked mom, and she said, “As long as you don’t act silly. Out the side door we went, and there we kissed. I still think about him today, almost 50 years later.