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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Part I: Joe and Joanie

Chapter 1

My truck-driving partner Tom was never much of a talker. I was always a little more sociable but after driving with him for years and years I knew he didn’t appreciate it much, so we never did a lot of talking over and above what was needed. Oh, once in a while we’d have a discussion about football or the boobs on some waitress at the last truck stop or something, but it soon died out. Besides, one of us was usually asleep – we were team driving to make time since we got a bonus for on-time delivery both ways.

Neither of us could sleep all the time we weren’t behind the wheel, so several times on each run we’d both be awake at the same time, even though one of us would usually be back in the sleeper. But sometimes we’d both be up in the cab, with whoever was in the right seat mostly watching the miles go by. Normally the stretch between Amarillo and Oklahoma City is the dullest part of the trip, flat prairie with nothing much to see out the window but miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, with the Interstate pretty well crowded with long-distance semis like us. But in the spring that area can brew up some huge, scary thunderstorms, and there was one not too far in front of us.

“Looks like it’s gonna be bad,” I said to Tom.

He didn’t reply – it was an obvious thing, after all. We drove along without speaking for several miles, when Tom spoke up out of nowhere. “Joe, if the good fairy were to come along right now and tell you he could wave his magic wand and send you back to when you were, oh, eighteen, knowing what you know now, would you take him up on it?”

It was very uncharacteristic of him to ask an off-the-wall question like that and it surprised me, but I answered honestly, “Hell, yes. There are damn sure some things I’d do different.”

“Like what?”

Actually I could think of a lot of things, but I really didn’t want to get into them with Tom. “I’d get out and see more of the world, and try to have a little more fun on the way. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, and it’s that I wouldn’t be a damn truck driver.”

“I hear you on that, Joe,” he replied. Nothing more than that; we fell into silence, each of us having our own thoughts. I’d have to guess he was thinking about the same thing that I was as we drew closer to the huge, evil-looking thunderstorm.

I never set out to be a truck driver, and if you’d told me at age eighteen I’d spend over forty years at it I think I would have slugged you. I had bigger dreams than that, dreams that had never really taken off. For one thing, I might have finished college, rather than dropping out at the end of my freshman year just as Vietnam was coming to a boil.

By then I was sick and tired of sitting in classrooms, and the Army seemed like the break I needed. Besides, I thought Vietnam might prove to be an adventure. Since I joined the Army rather than being drafted, I had some choice about what I was going to do – or at least what I would be trained to do. The choices that interested me were limited, but it struck me that driving a truck would be better than carrying a rifle, and I at least got that much correct. I mostly drove five-tons in Vietnam. It got a little sporty at times but as far as I was concerned the Vietnamese drivers were more of a danger than the Viet Cong. After Vietnam, I was sent to Germany where for a year and a half I mostly drove a flatbed semi between Nuremberg and Bremen. With the speed differential the Autobahns could be even sportier than Vietnam. While it got hairy now and then I never had an accident, which was just fine with me.

When I got out of the Army after a reasonably quiet three years I went back home and started looking for a girl and a job. However, in those days Vietnam veterans weren’t exactly the most appreciated people around, so both went slowly. I had a couple of real junk jobs as a laborer on construction sites, but they weren’t real steady and no one seemed interested in my driving a truck for them. I eventually got a freight terminal job driving a forklift. I won’t go into all the ins and outs, but after riding with some of the drivers on my days off, I finally got asked to be a substitute driver. This was before the days when you needed all the certifications needed today, and with my Army experience it was pretty easy to get the licenses I needed.

I mostly made local deliveries for years. It was a good job – five days a week and home every night, although I wasn’t making the kind of money that over-the-road drivers made. But, it was enough money and enough free time to meet and marry Cindy, who was working as a waitress in a greasy spoon when I met her. We bought a mobile home in a trailer park nearby, and things went pretty well for about five years.

In the spring of 1980 Cindy and I had our daughter Anita, who proved to be the only kid we had, since shortly after she was born it was announced that the outfit I was working for had gone belly up. With no insurance there was nothing in the budget for another kid. Things were really tight there for a while, until one day Larry, an over-the-road driver I knew slightly, called me up and asked if I could team-drive with him for a couple runs out to Los Angeles and back since his normal partner was in the hospital for a while. I didn’t have any doubts about saying yes.

Larry was an independent owner-operator, and he had worked out a neat deal. Every Monday he and his partner picked up a load of auto parts in Hamford, not far from where we all lived in Simsville, a couple of hours east of Chicago, and drove it out to a plant in San Bernardino, east of LA. After dropping off the parts, he had to drive light for a few miles to pick up produce – often tomatoes, but many other things depending on the time of year – and take them back to a wholesaler a hundred and fifty miles from Simsville. If everything went right he’d be back home Friday evening, but with traffic, weather, road construction, and who knows what, it sometimes slid into Saturday, and once in a great long while into Sunday.

I think I made five runs like that with him. The money was good as financially stretched as we were right then. I told him if he ever wanted another partner, let me know. Right at the time he didn’t, but I got a couple other substitute driving jobs, one of them driving a milk truck, and with that Cindy and I were able to make ends meet.

About a year later Larry called me up again. He was in his sixties and wanted to slow down a little, so he and his partner Tom had come up with this idea to bring in a third partner so the three drivers would make two runs, and then take one off. The money was a little better than I had been making at the freight terminal and it gave me a lot of time at home to help Cindy with Anita, so I hopped all over the idea.

We went on like that until Larry decided he wanted to take even more time off. Tom and I got our heads together and agreed to buy the Kenworth and the business from Larry, and then hire him to make maybe one run a month. That went on until Larry and his wife decided to hang it up entirely and move to Florida. After that, Tom and I did all the runs – it still gave us two or three nights and two days at home each week, and I could introduce you to a lot of drivers who don’t have it anywhere near as good. Besides, the money was a lot better; Cindy and I could buy a home instead of living in a trailer park, and we were glad to do it.

Over the years Tom and I gave some thought to bringing in a third partner, but we never quite did it, except for a couple tryouts that never worked out and then the occasional substitute. By that time Tom had gotten a divorce, since his wife had been making use of the time he spent on the road to have a little fun. Well, more than a little, from what he found out later. I never found out much about it – like I said, Tom wasn’t very talkative at the best of times.

On top of that, I was slowly beginning to realize that when I came home I was coming to Cindy and Anita’s home, not necessarily my home, so I didn’t mind spending the time on the road, either.

By the time we were facing the thunderstorm in Oklahoma, I had been doing the run for over thirty years, and Tom, who was a little younger than I was, had been doing it for a few years longer. Believe me, by then we had it down to a science. It is a touch longer to go through Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City than to go through Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas, but the time is close to the same since the Chicago traffic and the mountains in Colorado slow down the shorter route. Occasionally, weather or just the desire to go the other way once in a while would cause us to take the northern route, but we knew both of them like we knew the backs of our hands. We always knew where we would stop and fill and where we would change off driving. We knew where we would eat so well that we never needed a menu. We knew to avoid the burgers at one stop for example, but that the hot beef sandwich was worth the stop. At another place farther on down the road, it was the exact opposite. Diesel fuel was cheaper in some places than other because of taxes and the like, so we planned our fuel stops accordingly.

But for the most part there was nothing new for us. We had done it all so many times that we’d lost count a couple decades before. The mountains on the northern route, for example, were pretty, but we had no idea of what might be there a mile off the exit. Every now and then we’d comment that we ought to stop at this or that place and check it out, but we never did; there was always that bonus for on-time delivery, so we never felt comfortable taking the time. In all the runs we made to Los Angeles, I never once saw the Pacific Ocean.

In that time I had gotten more distant from Cindy, and even more distant from Anita. After my daughter left high school I usually only saw her briefly two or three times a year; sometimes it wouldn’t be that often. She had become a stranger to me, and for that matter, so had Cindy, who took advantage of the money I was bringing home to not go back to work. I wasn’t sure I liked that very much, but then I wasn’t sure I cared all that much, either. By the time we were driving into that thunderstorm I was facing seventy and I had no great desire to retire, mostly because Cindy and I had drawn so far apart and I didn’t have anything else I particularly wanted to do.

So, yes, if I had it all to do over again I would do something different – no question about it. I didn’t have any idea what, but given the choice I would have some fun and see some places more than a mile off of the Interstates I was so familiar with.

The storm was getting really close now. We could see lightning ahead of us – a lot of it. It was a huge storm, dark and threatening, and it seemed likely that there might be a tornado or several involved, since this was Oklahoma in the springtime, after all. I was starting to think about suggesting to Tom that we pull over and let it move out of the way, since we were more or less on schedule and had plenty of slack to still be able to drop off the tomatoes on time.

But I never got to make the suggestion. “OK,” Tom said first. “Suppose the good fairy was standing there with his magic wand, and said that he could send you back to when you were eighteen, but you’d have to be a girl.”

“1965, with no Vietnam and no draft for me to worry about? No Army to teach me to be a trucker? Works for me.”

A lightning bolt hit a sign along the road. There was a flash of very bright light and an immediate BOOM of thunder. “Even with all the shit a girl has to go through?”

“Sure, there’s shit a girl has to go through, but it’s different shit than a guy has to go through. I’d say not just yes, but hell yes.”

FLASH! Right in the cab, just for an instant, almost a strobe, but one of intense power . . .

*   *   *


If time was passing, I wasn’t aware of it.

Things were swirling around in my mind, and not making much sense. The flash . . . Tom . . . Cindy . . . voices I could hear but couldn’t make sense of . . . things that didn’t seem quite right, but not quite wrong, either . . .

In time – no telling how much time, either – things started to come together a little. Not a lot more, but a little.

Then there was a light that seemed bright moving around, but not the super-intense FLASH of the lightning bolt. It went on for a while, and then it went out. A man’s voice, unfamiliar but gentle: “Starting to come out of it a little, I think.”

“Good deal,” I heard another man’s voice say. It seemed a very familiar voice although I hadn’t heard it for a while and couldn’t figure out who it was. “Any idea how long it’s going to take?”

“No idea,” the first man’s voice replied. “Your guess is as good as mine.” They may have talked for longer, but I faded back out.

Some time later I faded back in. This time things made a little more sense. I found I could open my eyes, and realized I was in bed in a darkened room. Well, not dark; there were some low lights, and I could make out a street light at a distance out a window. And I realized that I hurt. My legs had a dull ache; I couldn’t move them, not that I wanted to try. My chest hurt a lot, and so did my right arm. To top it off I had an absolute killer of a headache.

But one thing was clear: I was alive.

In some remote corner of my mind, I wondered what had happened to Tom. That must have been some lightning bolt! Had he lived through it? “T-tom,” I tried to say, but it came out as a moan.

“Joanie?” I heard that vaguely familiar male voice say. “Are you awake?”

I tried to say yes, but all that came out of my mouth was an “uh.” It took too much effort to say any more than that, and my mouth wasn’t working right anyway.

“Joanie, say something,” the voice said again. I couldn’t make out who it was, although I thought I ought to know. I somehow managed to get an eye open, but all I could see was a shape standing there. The man was back-lit in the low lights of the room, so all I could make out was a shadow. “Speak to me.”

“Uh,” I replied again, barely more than a whisper.

“Joanie, I’ll go get the nurse,” the man said. “I’ll be right back.”

Now I recognized the voice, although I couldn’t believe it: it was my father . . . except that it couldn’t be. He had been dead for a dozen years, after a long and trying bout with Alzheimer’s. That he could be here didn’t make any sense at all. Without bringing the concept to words, I thought that I must have really had my bell rung when the lightning struck . . .

. . . or maybe that I hadn’t lived through it after all, and we were both on the other side . . . if that was the case maybe I didn’t mind. It would be good to see him well and whole again after his prolonged and frustrating death.

I guess I faded back out before he got back with the nurse, because the next thing I knew it was daylight, although the drapes in the room were closed to keep the light low. But the light was enough better that I could see that the man was really my father, but looking middle-aged and healthy rather than being the frail and sick old man of my most recent memories of him. With him was my mother, a few years younger. Both of them somehow looked both worried and relieved at the same time.

“Uh, hi,” I mumbled. I was becoming aware of the fact that I had tubes and stuff running into and out of me, but the feeling of them was just sort of there.

“Oh, good!” my mother said in obvious relief. “You’re awake again!”

“Uh . . . yeah.”

“How do you feel?” she said, taking my left hand in hers.

“Hurt,” seemed to sum it up pretty well. I could feel her hand, and it seemed pretty big to me, even though she was a lot smaller than I was. I glanced down at our hands, and somehow they seemed to be pretty close to the same size – and although I could feel my hand, it didn’t seem like mine at all. It was smaller than I remembered, more feminine . . . and I had never worn nail polish in my life! I glanced down at my body, which was covered by a sheet. Everything was different. I didn’t have the big gut that I’d had all my life. Oh, there was a body there all right, but it was slim and slender, less than half of what I had been used to. What’s more, I had the impression of breasts poking the sheets up a little bit.

What the hell? Oh, hell, it was another hallucination, I decided. Or at least it was the same one as last night. After all, Mom and Dad couldn’t be real, could they? They were dead, both of them, so if this was a hallucination, at least it was a pleasurable one. I could have had worse.

“I don’t doubt that you hurt,” she replied. “You were banged up pretty badly, but you’re getting better now.”

“Where . . . am I?” I guess I wasn’t speaking very clearly, since she had to ask me to repeat myself.

“You’re in the hospital in Hamford,” she told me.

Hamford? Shouldn’t it be Oklahoma City? Oh, well, this is a hallucination. Enjoy it.

“Your dad or Joey or I have been here with you ever since they brought you in here a week ago,” she went on. “Oh, Joanie, we’ve been so worried.”

There were things there that didn’t make sense. Joanie? Who was that? And Joey? But who said a hallucination had to make sense? “What . . . what happened?”

“We’re not real sure. We know you were caught in the tornado, but we didn’t know anything about it until we had a call from the hospital here.”

“Is . . . Tom . . . all right?” Although I had to be imagining things, I had to wonder about him.

“Tom?” she asked. “Who’s Tom? From what we can figure out you were in Lanny Hendrickson’s car.”

That didn’t make any sense at all. I didn’t know a Lanny Hendrickson. Well, yes, I did, but that was clear back in high school. He was a classmate, a fat kid, something of a loner, and I’d hung out with him a bit back in the day, not too much. But since I’d been a fat kid too, we had a degree of friendship. Lanny had a big thing about Ayn Rand, and always seemed to have one of her books with him. I’d tried reading one once, and just hadn’t liked it. He’d died in the big Palm Sunday tornado back in 1965, the one that tore up the town of Lawrence pretty bad. The town had never really recovered from the blow and wasn’t much of anything these days. I’d even gone to his funeral a few days after the storm; there hadn’t been many people there.

I thought about it for a moment. That wasn’t making any sense, either. But there was a nagging suspicion that sort of made sense even though none of this made sense, so I had to ask, “Is he OK?”

Mom got a sad look on her face. “No, honey,” she said softly. “He didn’t make it.”

This still wasn’t making sense. I remembered what I had heard about the incident pretty well. In fact, I had been to our fiftieth class reunion a while before, and our mutual memories of what people in our area still referred to as the tornado were still pretty strong. I had been several miles away when the storm hit; I knew it had been a bad one, but didn’t find out until the next day just how bad. No one had ever mentioned anyone being in Lanny’s car with him. But apparently I had been, although I had no idea why I would – we weren’t that close.

But if my folks were middle-aged, and Lanny had died a week before . . . that meant this had to be April of 1965! That made no sense at all! This is some hallucination you’re having, Joe!

I didn’t reply for a while, trying to make sense of something that just didn’t fit together. I remembered Tom’s questions back just before the lightning bolt hit back in Oklahoma. Could it really have happened? How?

I guess Mom must have thought I faded back out, because after a while I heard her say, “Joanie?”

“Just . . . thinking,” I told her. This was just too weird!

Just then someone came in the door. “Mom, Dad,” a very familiar voice said. “I got your coffee. How’s Joanie doing?”

“She’s come around quite a bit,” Mom replied.

“Great,” I heard him say. He came over into my view and said, “Hi, Sis. Glad to have you back among the living.”

I looked up to see a sight I must have seen a million times, but only in a mirror: me. A younger me, that is, late teens, pimples, and overweight. I was always overweight; I guess I looked around 220 pounds. I slimmed down to around 180 when I was in the Army, but slowly put it back on and more – too much truck-stop food, I guess. I was over 300 the last I knew.

“Hi,” I replied softly, just to be polite, but totally unable to believe this turn of events.

“Get better, Sis,” he smiled. “It’s six weeks until we graduate, and I’m looking forward to us getting our diplomas together.”

“I’ll try,” I said, letting this settle in after all the other surprises. I never had a sister; I was an only child. But now, it looked like I was my own twin sister!

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To be continued . . .

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