I don't think anyone in our family was more surprised than me when Dad gave me his old car. It was a 1947 Plymouth turtleback sedan. Among all the warnings and admonitions that accompanied that gift was a final piece of advice. Check the oil. It seemed that that old car burned as much oil as gas. Even though it had a tired six-cylinder engine, it ran and I was the proudest kid on the block when I climbed behind the wheel for the first time.
I was pretty good about obeying all the rules my folks had laid out: I watched my speed and did not get any tickets, and I did not try to race. However, with my limited budget, I sorta neglected the part about checking the oil until I began hearing an ominous clanking noise from the engine. No more Plymouth.
Many mornings while walking the mile and a half to school I thought about that car, and mentally kicked myself for not taking better care of it. Then one day, a friend at school told me of a friend that had a car for sale. They were asking $25, but it ran real good, and the body was in good shape.
After school I went over to see about the car. It was a 1947 Ford, also a turtle back, but it had a V8 engine. I had gotten a real good deal and could not have been happier if it had been a Cadillac.
What with one thing or another, I had not been very interested in girls. Truth was, I was actually kinda shy around them and would always manage to put my foot in my mouth when talking to them. That is until I met Kathy.
It was a bright clear glorious morning. The ice crystals that had formed on the trees during the night reflected the sun's light, adding their prismatic colors as if celebrating this momentous occasion. I finished scraping the ice from the windows, got in and backed out of the driveway, grateful that I did not have to walk to school.
I had only traveled a couple of blocks when I saw someone walking. As I got closer, I recognized her as a student in a couple of my classes. I pulled over and asked if she would like a ride. Her appreciation was evident as she climbed in and shut the door. She told me that she had missed her bus and was glad I had stopped.
We rode in silence for a few minutes before she broke the silence, "you got a new car." "Yeah" I replied, "I just got it last Friday" "What kind is it?" "A Ford, with a V8 engine." "Those are good cars." I had never heard her talk before and was surprised at her deep voice.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I offered to give her a ride home. She readily accepted. Her parents did not have much money, and what little she had she had earned baby-sitting.
That day in the lunch room, I came out of the serving line and looked around for a place to sit. I could see the students at the table where I usually sat were getting pretty rowdy, with a lot of pushing and shoving going on. I knew that if I sat there, there was a good chance I would either be wearing my lunch or picking it up off the floor. Then I saw Kathy sitting by herself at a back table and began walking over there.
"Mind if I join you?" I said as I sat my tray on the table and sat down. I was rewarded with quick smile before she returned to her meal.
"Looks like they're having fun" I said as I opened my carton of milk. "I don't think the janitor is going to be very happy." She gave the kids at that table a quick look then continued eating.
It's funny how you can be around someone for years and not seem to ever see them. We had had classes together in junior high and now high school.
As I thought back, I can always remember her walking alone down the hallway. She would have her head down with her arms wrapped around her books, clutching them close against her. She would usually be walking close behind a group of girls.
At first I thought that this was some sort of defense, an effort to avoid being teased. I was half-right. She had her head down, but she was able to see everything around her and would seldom miss a thing. She also loved gossip. By walking close behind a group of girls, she would eavesdrop on their conversation, and she probably knew more than anyone about who was doing what, or what was going on in school.
Kathy was the oldest of four children, with two sisters and a brother. Her parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden just before she was born. Her parents were proud of their adopted country and wanted their children to have "good American names." The first was Kathy, not Kathleen or Catherine, just Kathy. This had caused her some embarrassment with teachers who could not accept that it was not a nickname.
She had been born premature, and doctors at that time gave the sickly child little chance for survival. Somehow she overcame those odds. Her parents called her their miracle child and gave thanks to God and the Mormon Church that had been there to support them during that difficult time.
That early illness had lingering effects. She stood just over four feet tall and had a deep voice. Because of that, she would never talk in class, and teachers, sympathetic to her problem, would never call on her. But even with those handicaps she was a good student and loved to learn. Her favorite classes were in history. She was interested in people and the reasons why they did the things they did.
As we finished eating, I repeated my earlier offer to give her a ride home after school. For the first time, she looked at me and I could see her for the first time. She had an oval face, unadorned by makeup, that was framed by long dark brown hair tied back with a white ribbon. Her lips parted to reveal two even rows of tiny white teeth. But her most striking feature were her large brown eyes.
They were like deep dark pools. It felt like I could look into them and see right into her soul. I sat there mesmerized. "You have beautiful eyes." She blushed but did not turn away. Then I saw something else. It was like little flashes of light dancing around in them. It was like Peter Pan when Tinkerbell would fly and leave a trail of fairy dust.
I felt myself slipping out of control. Once again I had opened my mouth and stuck my foot in it. I realized that I had really wanted to impress this girl but had only succeeded in making a fool of myself.
Feeling embarrassed, I began staring down at my tray. I could feel her eyes, questioning, wondering if this was another cruel joke. Then satisfied that I was not teasing her, she replied, "Sure, that would be great," then she got up, and grabbing her tray, she walked away.
I sat there puzzled. It felt like I had just passed a test and been accepted. Maybe I had, but what had I been accepted into?
When the final bell rang, I joined the crowd in the hallway, put my books in my locker and made my way to the parking lot. I had almost forgoten about Kathy until I approached my car and saw her sitting in the front seat waiting.
I picked her up every morning after that. She would invariably come out the door as I pulled into her drive. One day when I mentioned that I was surprised that I never had to wait for her, she told me that she had one of her sisters watching for me, that they would watch to see Henry coming. "Who's Henry?" I asked. "You know, the car, Henry, Henry Ford."
I was flabbergasted. I knew several students had named their cars, most had the name painted on the front or back fender. A friend of mine had named his "the Blob." I had not even thought of naming the car. Henry? Why not.
I began to look forward to going over to her house. There was always something interesting going on. One time I walked into a pirate's den. Mikey, her five-year-old brother, had a wooden sword made out of yardsticks and a cloth patch over one eye. All he could say was "Sez you and sez me." They had just returned from watching "Treasure Island" at one of the theaters.
Kathy had a sword of her own. "Avast you lubber. Move quickly now or walk the plank." I watched as her mother surveyed the carnage that was a living room turned pirate ship. She gave a look heavenward, sighed then retreated to the kitchen. Another time I stopped by, her mother answered my knock and motioned to a back bedroom from which emanated an awful rendition of the song "On Top of Old Smoky". I gave her mother a questioning glance and smiled as she shook her head and gave a look heavenward.
I opened the door to the bedroom to find the four kids on the floor singing from an old copy of Hit Parade magazine. The best I could say about their songfest was that it was loud. Margaret and Elizabeth were off key, Mikey would try to repeat the lyrics just sung, and Kathy overpowered them all with her bass monotone.
It is interesting to note that everyone I knew had several old copies of Hit Parade. I had a few myself. I can't recall ever seeing a new one. I'm not sure if they sold new ones in the stores. I often wondered if the printer waited until the songs fell off the charts before they were printed. Then the covers were mechanically wrinkled and torn before being stapled on.
One Sunday after church we had decided to go for a ride. We had driven up and down the street, and with nothing going on decided to go for a hamburger. I pulled Henry into the parking lot of a "Snappy Service cave."
We both ordered cheeseburgers and a Coke. Kathy surprised me when she asked the waitress for a dish of "Mayo." The waitress soon returned with our order, and I watched fascinated as Kathy took her dish of Mayo and began pouring ketchup in it. She took a knife and carefully stirred it until it was a bright pink. Then took one of her fries and dipped it in that concoction.
That looked good, and without asking, I reached over to sample it. As I started to dip my fry, Kathy's eyes suddenly flashed. I could see bright red sparks in her eyes. I quickly drew my hand back like it had been burned. "Sorry," I said.
In a moment she visibly softened and relaxed. Then still without speaking, reached out and pushed the dish toward the middle of the table. I tasted it. "Boy, that's really good." I was rewarded with a shower of fairy dust.
On Halloween, I was home alone answering the door and passing out candy. Mom and Dad had gone out for the evening to celebrate her birthday. I was about ready to turn the porch light out when I heard footsteps on the front porch, and the cry of "Trick or Treat." I opened the door and laughed at the apparitions standing there. The children were wrapped in toilet paper to resemble mummies. Then looking down at the bottom of the porch steps I saw Kathy standing there. The girls again shouted "Trick or Treat", then Mikey held out his bag, "Candy!"
Laughing, I opened the door wider and invited them all in. The girls sat on the floor going through their treasure; Mikey started seeing how much he could put in his mouth at one time. Kathy began trying to salvage the paper costumes. "Let me help you" I offered, and then taking the various pieces began rolling them. "Be careful" she admonished, "Daddy will be real upset if he goes into the bathroom in the morning and there isn't any paper. We used the last two rolls making these costumes."
We were sitting at our booth in the café, sipping cokes and making designs on the table with the bottom of our glasses. I finally got up the nerve to ask the question, the reason for my bringing her here. "You planning on going to the dance?" She knew of course that I was referring to the Christmas dance at school. "No, I guess not. Nobody has asked me." We sat there in silence for a long minute. "Well, would you like to go?" I asked. "With you?" "Sure, if you would like to." "Yeah, I'll go with you."
Her replies gave the impression that she did not care one way or the other, but I had watched her body tense with excitement, and her eyes filled with fairy dust when I finally asked. I began having second thoughts and hoped I was doing the right thing.
I had Henry cleaned for the big occasion, sweeping off the floor mats and a clean blanket for a seat cover. I pulled into her driveway and walked up to the door.
Apparently, I was expected, because the door opened before I had a chance to knock. "Come in," her mother said. "She is almost ready." Then Kathy came into the room and I could only stare, speechless. She was the ugly duckling turned into a Swan. Her long hair hung in long loose curls accented by a new white ribbon. She had applied a peach colored lipstick, a little rouge and eyeliner. I could hardly believe the transformation. "Well, what do you think?" she said as she twirled around, her white gown blossoming out to show her high heels. "You're beautiful!" She started to blush, a blush that went from the top of her head all the way down to her toes.
Fortunately, the awkwardness was relieved by her mother. "Oh, you brought her flowers." She had seen the corsage I had been holding, grabbed it and began pinning on Kathy's dress. Then her father came out with his little Kodak camera. "Let me get a picture of my little all-grown-up girl." Thankful for the interruption, I stood back and tried to collect my wits.
We walked down the front stairs and started across the lawn. I had stepped ahead to open the car door when I heard Kathy give an anguished shriek. Looking back I saw that she had stepped wrong, and the heels of both shoes were buried in the soft ground. I walked back, and with a word of comfort, picked her up and carried her to the car. Then, retrieving the shoes, I took a rag from under the seat and carefully wiped the mud from them. As I placed a shoe on her foot, I felt a little like Prince Charming with Cinderella.
The dance was wonderful. Kathy would take off her shoes for the fast dances and put them back on for the slow ones. When we danced, she liked to be held close, laying her head against me. This was a new experience for me. I had not been to a dance for a long time, and none of the girls I dated then would allow me to hold them this close.
We danced around the room, the lights from the mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling.
Providing momentary illumination. I held her close and inhaled her perfume. I got kind of dizzy trying to decide if how I felt was how I was supposed to feel, and then how would I feel if what I was feeling was wrong. I finally gave up and decided to just go with it.
After the dance we went down to "Uncle Leo's Noodle Parlor." We both ordered the fried shrimp. It was a little expensive, but it was something she had never tasted, and besides I liked it too. We both had a laugh when our order was brought out. She picked up one of the shrimp. It was almost as big as her hand, but then biting into it, found out that it was mostly breading. But still it tasted great.
We got back in the car and I began just driving. Neither of us was ready to return home, to have the night end. We drove slowly down Washington Blvd., listening to the radio, just enjoying being with each other. The radio began playing a song "Hush-a-by" that was popular at that time. I turned to Kathy to make some crack about a lullaby that would keep a baby awake, then noticed that she was leaning against my arm, sound asleep, snoring softly.
I pulled into her driveway, carefully lifted her out of the car and began walking to the front porch. As I reached the steps, her mother opened the door. Seeing me carrying Kathy, she commented, "Yaw, papa has to carry her too."
One of the spring traditions at school was "Lagoon Day". Lagoon was a large amusement park located midway between Ogden and Salt Lake City. The students were given a special discount ticket that allowed us to ride all the rides.
Kathy and I boarded the charter bus and joined a group of friends sitting at the back. She had never been to Lagoon before, and she had to go on every ride from the Merry Go Round to the Roller Coaster. The long lines at each ride dampened her enthusiasm. We visited the fun house, and the horror tunnel. I guess this was supposed to be scary, but instead it was kind of hokey, and she would laugh as the demons attacked instead of clinging to me in terror.
On the ride home, we decided that we would come back next weekend when we would not have the crowds or long lines.
That following Saturday I pulled into her driveway excited at the prospect of being able to spend the whole day with her. As I climbed out of the car, I saw Margaret and Elizabeth standing in the window. I felt a little sorry that they could not go, but I knew that in a couple of years, they would be having boyfriends of their own.
Entering the house, Kathy was just coming out of her bedroom. "Get your coat, it's going to get chilly. Then Mikey came running out carrying his coat. 'Go Goon, Go Goon" he cried. Kathy tried to tell him that he could not go. Apparently, she had been telling them all about Lagoon. They had heard about it, but until last week when Kathy went, none of them had ever been there.
We hurried out of the house and got in the car. The girls were standing at the window, a wistful look on their face. Next to them stood Mikey. We could not hear him, but we could see his tears and just knew. Kathy couldn't look. She stared down at the floor. I had started the car, but instead of driving off, I reached over and turned the key off. "Oh why not. It was cheaper to get a family pass anyway."
I had barely finished speaking before Kathy had the door open, jumped out and ran up to the house. In a minute they were all out there piling into old Henry. Mikey climbed in the front and settled in between Kathy and me. He gave me a triumphant look "Go Goon!" "Yep" I replied, "Were all going to Lagoon."
One lesson I had learned with my first car is that when you park in a big parking lot, it's a good idea to park close to something you can identify so you can find it when you come out. Seeing a lone tree, I found a spot near that and we all got out.
The girls had their own tickets, so we let them go off by themselves, agreeing to meet later near the snackbar. We took Mikey and began walking toward the children's rides. It wasn't quite the afternoon I had planned, but Kathy seemed very happy as she put Mikey on the different rides. He had to ride them all, the boats, cars, airplanes, the train and Merry- go- round. We were able to take him with us on the "Dodge-em" cars, and Mikey screamed with delight every time someone plowed into us.
After a while we met up with the girls and had them baby-sit while I took Kathy on the Roller Coaster. She didn't scream, but she held the safety bar so tight her knuckles were white. At the end of the ride I asked her if she had fun. Yes, she said. Then I asked if she would like to go again. I got a simple No in reply.
It was getting dark as we started home. Margaret and Elizabeth sat in the back seat looking over the post cards and prizes they had won in the Penny Arcade. Mikey was curled up on the front seat his head on Kathy's lap, his arm wrapped tightly around the stuffed rabbit I had managed to win for her. I carried him into the house, and handing him to his mother, he briefly opened his eyes and said, "go goon."
Many nights we would just drive around, listening to the radio. I think everyone in town listened to the same station, K.L.O. The station would take requests, and play dedications. Sometimes they were funny. There was one couple in school who's romance was like a soap opera. They were an oddly matched couple. He was tall, no chin and could pose as a poster boy for acne. She was short, dumpy with stringy brown hair, that appeared that it was never washed and seldom seen a brush or comb. I heard one student refer to her as the "queen of cooties." Unflattering, but accurate.
They had a very turbulent relationship. At least once a night it seemed the DJ would play a dedication from one to the other. They had apparently had an argument about something and wanted a special song played to say that they were sorry, and wanted to make up. One night the DJ added a comment, saying that he can't apologize if you won't answer the phone. There were many others, but these were the most fun.
Now although she was old enough, Kathy had never been behind the wheel of a car. She had no idea about how to drive. That ended the night she asked if she could shift. She had seen other couples. He would drive, and as he pushed the clutch in, the girl would shift gears. Pretty simple. I thought so too.
Henry had come equipped with a standard three-speed transmission, with the shift lever mounted on the steering wheel column. Just like almost every car back then. I took a few minutes to explain how the shifter worked, and believing she understood, let her try.
She got up on her knees next to me and took the shifter in both hands. I had already put it in low gear, so I let the clutch out and let the car slowly move forward. As I picked up speed, I depressed the clutch again and told her to shift. Immediately, there was the gut-wrenching sound of grinding gears. She had tried to put it in reverse.
I stopped the car, put it back in low, and explained that all she had to do was push down and up to get it into second gear. Satisfied that she had learned from her previous mistake, I ventured to let her try again. In her excitement, she again tried to pull in and push up, and again there was the grinding of gears. Believing that Henry could not stand much more abuse, I suggested that she let me shift for awhile. She moved over by the door and would occasionally give the gear a glare that could burn through steel. Kathy did not like second gear.
As spring approached, I decided I would take Kathy fishing. She had never been, and we both thought it would be a lot of fun. I borrowed a fishing pole for her, and with a picnic lunch in a box on the back seat, a can of night crawlers for bait in the trunk we set off.
One of my favorite spots was at the far end of Pine View Reservoir, which was about seven miles from home. There was an old boat dock, and although in need of repair, was a great place to fish from.
I got the tackle, worms and fishing poles out of the trunk and led the way out on the dock. Taking a worm out of the can, I held it up and was surprised when she jumped back. "Oh, your not afraid of a worm are you?" I laughed as I shook it in front of her. Then as I began putting the worm on the hook, I was suddenly propelled forward, headfirst into the water.
I splashed around and finally got myself upright on the gooey sticky bottom. I looked at the boat dock but could not see Kathy. I finally managed to wade over and pull myself out of the water, then noticed that I was missing a shoe. It was still down there, but I wasn't about to go back in after it. Reluctantly I picked the abandoned equipment and squished back to the car.
I was glad that I had kept a spare pair of pants and shirt in the trunk. I had them just in case Henry broke down, and I would not have to get my good ones ruined. As I reached the car, I looked around and saw Kathy sitting on a hillside picking wildflowers.
I had gone behind some bushes to change, and when I returned, Kathy was sitting in the front seat carefully arranging her bouquet of flowers.
We drove out, and as we reached the highway, I turned the radio on. Now Henry had a peculiar problem. I had learned that if you went over a bump or over a bad road, the radio would go out. A friend told me that it was only a loose wire shorting out and would be real easy to fix. But in as much as my knowledge of electronics was exceeded only my knowledge of auto mechanics, I left it alone. I chose instead to keep a box of fuses in the glove compartment, and was careful to turn the radio off if I anticipated a bad road.
There wasn't a lot of difference between the rock and roll stations we listened to and the country western stations. We would often listen to them both. The radio came on, and the station was playing one of our favorite songs. I reached over and pushed a button changing the station. Kathy immediately pushed a button changing it back. I reached over to change it, and she blocked my hand. We fought over the radio, but when she brought her foot out to block my hand, she kicked the radio, and it died.
I drove along in silence, not looking at her. She tried to turn it back on, pushing buttons and hitting it with her tiny fist. Finally she gave up slid over by the door and began taking an interest in the passing scenery, occasionally giving the radio a malevolent glance, angry because it wouldn't work.
I could take it no longer. I burst out laughing as I pulled the car over to the side of the rode. I got a new fuse to replace the burnt one, and saying, "there you go, good as new" began driving down the road. I felt I had gotten even for being pushed in the lake. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my arm. She had bit me. I had forgotten one very important thing about Kathy: She did not like to be teased.
As the end of the school year neared, Kathy and I began to drift apart, seeing less and less of each other. She had become involved with church activities that took a lot of her spare time, and I had joined the Naval Reserve, and had new duties to keep me occupied. She began going with another boy; he had a Buick with an automatic transmission.
As the end of school neared, I decided to sell Henry. I would be going in the Navy after graduation and did not think they would let me take him on board ship. The kid that bought him seemed real happy.
Just before school ended I ran into him and asked how the car was doing. "Oh I can't drive, I lost my license, too many tickets. And anyway, the radio doesn't work."