Thursday, February 24, 2011

Okoboji: Urbandale 1975

Ah, we took numerous trips up to Lake Okoboji which is in the northwest corner of Iowa (more or less). By we I mean Bob, Kevin and I. I don't recall the first time I visited the place--Okoboji a rather renowned spot in Iowa due to its natural lakes and natural beauty, to its original theme park in Arnold's Park and some other small claims to Iowa-centric fame--but I do know it was with Bob (Bob my first real friend in Urbandale who lived down the block from me on 65th). We were old enough by then to be on our own. I believe I was able to drive, but perhaps the first time it was just Bob and I with his parents. I know his parents bought a little plot and had a trailer--maybe not that first time but after that--where you could walk down to the lake. There was more than one lake. There was Lake Okoboji itself, then there was East lake Okoboji, or maybe East and West lakes, and then there was a smaller lake. There may be more, as the area was known as Iowa's Great Lakes. I think. Anyway, Bob's parents--nice people--also bought a small boat to keep on the lake. I believe Bob and I slept on the boat one time. But it was after all of that that we--Bob, Kevin and I--came up to the lake for a long summer weekend. I know I'd driven at least once in my Ford falcon Wagon (1966) that had been the family car for years and years and still ran (and whose stereo wiring--which I had installed--had actually caught fire once and whose brakes gave out on me while coming down a hill in Urbandale while coming back from a trip to Okoboji) but I know we also drove up once in Kevin's old black Volkswagon Beetle. But his parents--Bob's--had let us stay there and we, Kevin and I anyway, drank beer and motored about the lake in Bob's parents' little motor boat and there were a couple of girls staying in a trailer nearby--druggy-ish girls from Colorado or some such, one a little too young and the other a little too hip to have much to do with us--and we just generally did our inane things that we did at that age. But I do recall I was taking a dump in the bathroom of the trailer when all of a sudden Bob comes rushing in (I didn't lock the door) because his parents had pulled up outside. His mother and father had driven up and shown up without announcement, without ever telling us that they would. That was not nice--I mean, we were good guys, not into much trouble except some beer, which we were old enough to legally drink--and here they were showing up out of the blue as if to check on us, as if to catch us in some transgression. Really. And if we had been doing anything more than just taking a dump and having a few beer cans around? (And Bob did not even drink.) What if we'd had the girls over, what if we were smoking cigarettes and--god forbid at that time--marijuana? What if we had trashed the place and sunk the boat and who knows what? Would they have been happy to find that out? Didn't they think that at our age at that time that there were some things they best not know about? I mean, we were still pretty innocent and caused no true or even rowdy trouble, so why show up unannounced?
Oh well.
It wasn't long after that that Bob and I parted ways, fell out of friendship with each other. Kevin and I stayed good pals for a long time but I have not seen or barely heard from him in maybe two decades. And Okoboji? I don't know. I can't quite recall its charms. To me, it's now just an Iowa-centric place.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Football Game: Iowa City 1974

Only my father and I loved football. No one else in the family--my three brothers, sister, mother--had any interest in it, at least not until much later. I also shared a love of plants and trees with my father--a love of gardening and growing vegetables. But, as I said in the post about buying a vehicle with my older brother, there was still an emotional distance between us when I grew up, as there was among us all in the latter stages of the family as a unit (that is, before we all got older and moved into our own, separate lives).
So--and I'm hazy on all of the specifics--one fall I agreed to go to a football game with my father. Just he and I. And it was not just any game, it was an Iowa Hawkeyes game. Father had gone to Iowa and was a rabid follower of the Hawkeyes. I--and my brothers, sister as well--were supporters of the team, more or less, but not avid ones (that would come later as each of us, like my father, would attend the University of Iowa). So, he drove us over to Iowa City from Urbandale/Des Moines. Not a long drive--two hours at best--but long enough to go back and forth in one day. It was early in the fall. Sunny. Warm. Green. I had not really been to a college game before (maybe once in Tennessee, at the small college in Johnson City because a friend of mine's--Bobby, who had a glass eye--father was the band director at the school) and was pleasantly surprised to see the crowds, the general pleasantries, hear the marching band, see the baton twirlers and all that went with the game. We had parked in a grassy lot in someone yards for five dollars or such (we had entered the town the back way, which was why, years later when I drove to Iowa City for orientation, I came the wrong way--it was all I knew) and had brought ham sandwiches that he had purchased in a store. We sat and ate by our car, he drinking a beer and me a soda, I think.
The game was not a great game. Either Frank Lauterber was coach or maybe Cummings by then but they had both always fielded bad Hawkeye teams. I don't recall who they were playing (Nebraska? Not a Big Ten team, I don't think) but they were losing, as usual. But then the Hawkeyes made a big play--a long pass which the receiver barely caught. My father and I cheered. We looked at each other, cheering, straight in the eye. And then we didn't.
It was as if we both had caught ourselves in a faux pas--this act of shared emotion, this father and son moment, one that would be considered healthy and normal and sweet, both of us cheering and sharing a near touchdown for the home team. But that was not done in our family. Not much, anyway (at least by our teens). Again, expressions of affection or love, even at a sporting event, were suspect expressions. That's not to say that my father or mother never said they loved me or us or each other, but if they did it was on very rare occasions. I don't know. It just seems strange to me now, that I--and perhaps Father--would be embarrassed to share a cheer at a football game. And I'm not trying to place blame, or make it into more than it was. I loved my father, love my mother, my siblings, my wife and own children. My parents were good parents all through their life--my mother still. They had much tougher childhoods than we--their children--can understand. As a father, a parent, I know that as your kids grow older, hit their teens, things change in both how you view them and certainly in how they view you.
I know love.
But, I guess I wish it had been a bit different. I wish I could have easily yelled for the Hawkeyes with my father on that bright sunny day in Kinnick Stadium in 1974. I wish we could have cheered the team on to a touchdown and be able to hold our hands in the air and look each other in the eye as we did so. I wished we could have hugged.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Driving To Nevada To Buy A Van: Urbandale 1976

It wasn't that I lacked practical sense, I actually could be a very practical person, but when it came to spending money on big items, I had little sense at all. Which was how I came to be riding in a car with Second Oldest Brother down little dirt roads in rural Iowa trying to find his friend who wanted to sell me his van.
Now, I had been practical enough to save my money from working in the stockroom at Younkers (at the Merle Hay Mall) for almost two years so that I could buy a car with cash. I mean, I spent very little. I had, I think, close to twelve thousand in my little savings account my parents had helped me start as soon as I got the job while in high school (I'd quit football and had gotten the job instead, walking to the mall after school and often working full days on weekends). So, eventually I got the car bug and wanted one of my own. My older brother--Second Oldest--had had cars by then, had had money and had spent money, so I went to him for advice. And he, in turn, went to his friends who were trying to unload certain cars.
In all fairness, Second Oldest Brother took me around to some car lots and I drove some cars from there. I knew nothing about anything: what to expect, what to ask, how much I should pay. Second Oldest Brother was there for that, I figured. Eventually he showed me his friend's vehicle, a Grand Prix (Pontiac?). I liked big cars, more or less, and I drove it around but decided it wasn't for me. I told him what I really wanted was a van, one I could camp in or live in. You see, I didn't tell him this, but I was fresh out of high school and I wanted to get a van, a dog, and hit the highway. I wanted to go out west and live a vagabond's life. So, Second Oldest Brother knew of a friend who had a van. He lived out in Nevada.
Now, this was not the western state of Nevada, that mecca of gambling and whorehouses and deflated housing markets, no this was Ne-VAY-da (as I believe the locals pronounced it), a small town in rural Iowa not terribly far from Des Moines. So that's how I ended up with Second Oldest Brother driving the back roads one summer weekend.
I have to say, it was very nice of my brother to take the time and effort to help me. He drove me out there at his own expense, even bought me some McDonalds as we got a bit lost. Just he and I, he closer to adulthood than me (two or three years older) who had always been the doer in the family, the one to get a paper route, the one to buy his own mini bike, then car and other items, the one who was most independent and anxious to get out of the house. Which was also why he was the most mysterious brother, the sibling I felt I understood the least.
We had been a very close family in many ways, yet also an odd one. Yes, we had both parents and were a family of five kids (four boys, one girl). We were all born in Sioux Falls, SD but from there we moved often: Vancouver, WA, Jonesborough and then Johnson City TN, Des Moines/Urbandale, IA. So, in many ways we were close to each other out of necessity, out of a sense that all other relationships were transitory . . . But as we got older, as Oldest and then Second Oldest finished high school and as we stayed in one spot--in Iowa--for once, we kind of drifted apart. Then again, I should say that we became indifferent to each other. Both of our parents had grown up in broken families, both without fathers (my father's father was in a mental hospital all of his life after WWI; my mother's father ran away, abandoning his family). And we, as their offspring, always had some kind of element in us, one that is hard to explain but that essentially was disdainful of positive emotions, of showing need or affection or cohesion as a family unit. I'm not sure. I mean, we knew we were loved and that my parents loved each other, but, yet, no one could say the word and we were often--as we got older--more mean to each other than nice and then we were, as I said, indifferent. My parents, fatherless children of the Great Depression and young adults of WWII (in which my father fought in Europe), perhaps had learned to deal with sadness and disappointment in their lives through indifference to it, so much so that we kids carried a certain stoic/pessimistic gene . . . Then again, who the heck knows. Maybe we were pretty much like everyone else. (We all get along quite well now, us "kids", but we also live far away from and don't have much contact with each other.)
What I'm trying to point out is that it was strange and somewhat embarrassing to me for my older brother to be helping me out, to care enough to help out. But we did find his friend and the van and I bought it. I paid the asking price because I had no concept that I could bicker--and, Oldest Brother never said a peep that I could ask for less from his friend. Yes, I paid too much. Yet, I was happy to have the van: a 72 Ford Econoline painted in two-tone blue with shag carpeting on the inside and a bed in back, a cooler between the two front seats (Captain's seats) also hidden by shag carpeting. It was quite the 70's semi-hippy mobile.
I never did take the van out west.
I did take it to Florida that next spring, to Daytona and Key West. I took it to Iowa City a few times and when I decided to go to college, it sat back at my parents house until it became an eyesore. I eventually sold it to friend of a neighbor for about $500--more than $2000 less than I paid for it.
So it goes.
I disliked owning a car for many years afterwards.