Hogs

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.

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Record

My first teaching position after college was at the newly built Lincoln High School.  Probably the reason that I was hired by principal T. C. Tollefson was due to my student teaching at Washington High under Barney Kremer, one of the best drama and speech coaches a high school could ever have, at least it seemed then; and he probably was for Sioux Falls at that time. As far as I observed, students adored him, clamored to be in his plays, respected him even when not cast.  Barney was epileptic, his condition progressing as he became older.  I remember him having a seizure once during those eight weeks of student teaching. Or was it a semester? During an afternoon speech class, it happened.

Barney’s room was set up with a small stage on a six-inch platform flush against the west side. The classroom had two main doors, one of either side of the west wall.  Student chairs, not desks I don’t think, were positioned around three sides towards the stage.  Even now I can see the room in all its beigeness, a chalkboard as a backdrop for the stage; another on the south wall between the two doors; however, in my memory most of  the seats were  empty, as most seats are during four to six weeks of rehearsals.  Doors to two small rooms were on either side of the south wall’s chalkboard: A room for props, costumes, etc., farthest away from door to the classroom; Barney’s office right as one entered the classroom.

During a semester many plays were performed for classes in that room: a teacher ushered in one class on the right while another teacher guided her or her class out the other door. During a run actors performed the same play continuously throughout the school day and then again on a night or two.  In front of the stage, and it remained that way for a speech class, was an open space that sometimes felt like an immense sand dune, especially  when I took over a rehearsal or taught an oral interpretation class.

I had seen someone have a seizure once before, in the middle of the afternoon at Kirk’s Cafe, downtown Sioux Falls,. I’m not sure if it was a Sunday or a Saturday, or even for sure if it really was in the middle of the afternoon.  I was tending  counter, my basic post at Kirk’s.  Normally I worked from 2 in the morning until sometime late forenoon.  I know that I started waitressing for Kirk’s in the summer of 1962,  right after my freshman year.  Earlier that summer I moved into Mrs. Rudd’s home, across the street, north of Augie’s Old Main.  A bunch of Augie girls, refugees from their own homes like me, lived there–I in the middle north bedroom on the second floor.  It had a little closet on the west wall, the bed facing the north wall most of the time.

That summer my younger sister stayed with me for a few weeks.  It must have taken my mother a great deal of courage to let Gloria ride the bus up from Denison, Iowa to Sioux Falls.  Maybe Gloria begged, or I did, or Gloria needed a job and there wasn’t anything for any female teenager then around Manilla and Vail.  I probably told her she could probably get one at the Arena.  But more than likely it was because we were so damn poor, and my father and mother probably thinking she has to start finding her way on her own.  When she came, we probably positioned the bed against the north wall, for I remember she coming home a little before the time I was to go to work with a chameleon somehow pinned to her shirt.  I remember her waking me up to show it to me.  I think I told her to get that damn thing away from me after I pointed my finger at her and asked if she wanted another cup of coffee.

I waited tables for the Kirk brothers from that summer up through my junior year: first for Ted, who ran the one downtown,and then for Larry, who managed Kirk’s Drive Inn, until I jumped shift to the truck stop across the overpass on the newly built Interstate 29.  I’m not sure what were my wages per hour, but it wasn’t much.  At the truck stop in 1965, fifty cents an hour plus tips,, so at Kirk’s probably the same.  Apparently  four Kirk brothers had their fingers in both places,

The seizure at Kirk’s I do remember occurred in bright light, more than likely streaming in from the corner south and west windows that the counter faced.   This couple always came in the middle of the afternoon, two cups of coffee, maybe a little pie or a donut.  The man looked like the lead in Dragnet, Jack Web, quiet, soft spoken, a little pasty, as characters in black and white appeared; the woman, always quiet, never saying much.  I know I was sitting on the other side of the counter, drinking my own coffee, for they were the only two in the place.  Maybe I was visiting with them, something that was a waitress’s obligation then–keep the customers happy, make them feel at home.  And the wife fell between the stools and the counter, wedged up under there; the bar on which customers put their feet probably caused a bruise on her back.

In my memory, it’s a series of stills: first the heavy bang against the stool on her right, then another when she went twisting under the counter, her back arching, the body flopping in that small space.   Foam came out of her mouth, white like a bloated cow.  Her husband pulled her out over to center of the floor, near one of the tables on the west side. He took a tough depressor out of his shirt pocket.  I remember the embarrassment in his eyes when he asked me to hold her head while he put the depressor in her mouth.   It seemed forever she spasmed while her husband then held her head while I held the depressor in her mouth.

Barney’s seizure also was in the bright light of an afternoon, in the empty space in front of the stage.  He must have known it was coming on, for I think he got to his knees.   I thought it strange that he was doing so, but Barney, like Earl Mundt, Augies’s theatre director and me, sometimes enacted moves for those we directed.  He didn’t flop as much as the woman at Kirk’s.  Neither did foam come out of his mouth.  His back did arch, and he became stiff and stared at the ceiling; his eyes rolled back in his head.  I stood there, as I did at Kirk’s, not knowing what to do.  The students did, however.  They were calm, respectful,  as if they were witnessing a death.  One, I’m not sure who it was, left and brought back another teacher.

Barney eventually had to quit teaching, retiring to his home on west 18th Street.

My other stint at student teaching was in 7th & 8th grade math classes  under an old bitty of a woman who ran her classes as if they were prison lockdowns. I really don’t know what it was that irked her so about me, as I often don’t know what irks others about me, except that at this time at the end of her career, as she appeared then, I believe she feared innovation, wanted the classroom managed precisely the way she did.  I really don’t think my approach was all that much different from her’s–I had to follow lesson plans that my supervisor and she approved; but of course, I didn’t see myself as she did. And it was Patrick Henry Junior High; at that time, in the elite part of Sioux Falls–two Country Clubs nearby, Sioux Valley Hospital, V. A. Hospital,  Park Ridge, all those beautiful homes northwest of 18th Street and Western.  Later, with my children, even though they were toddlers, I would drive through the curved streets, pointing out to them the imposing door of one home, the graduated curved lane of another, the cupolas that dotted many of them, the immaculate lawns. I still dream about one of those houses–three-story gray stucco, narrow but deep, with a façade that seemed to curve into fantasy.

What I did learn from student teaching at Patrick Henry was that absolutely, unequivocally I was not meant for junior high teaching, the way that it was taught then.  It was more important in the 1960s, maybe also for junior highs now, that students sit still quietly, heads in obeisance, and perform according to the way that it was always done, instead of challenging them to learn advanced skills and concepts.  But boredom is as boredom does. It kills me still, every single night of the week.  But what did I know about my junior high math teaching ability?   I do know that at Augie I tutored male math students my own age and above,  who after college worked for companies who paid them well, like MIT.  My first take-home paycheck from teaching at Lincoln was $358. I was a female, only groomed for teaching or nursing; and expected as soon as possible, if not before graduation, to “hook-up” and marry, if not get pregnant and marry, or get pregnant and not get married.  But to be fair, during that student teaching experience, if I remember correctly, besides working at Kirk’s Truck Stove, which now doesn’t exist, and later waitressing at night West Truck Haven, I was also in a play.

At that time in Washington High,  no elevator swooned me to the top of that three-story structure, which is now Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science.  I don’t remember climbing those stairs then, as I do remember trudging up them 20 years later when I came back to teach and manage the English Resource library, after teaching at Garretson, a state of mind that suggests that during student teaching under Barney those stairs disappeared under my feet as those on a Vegas stage after showgirls swirled through the exits.