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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 6

The next day was Memorial Day.

Memorial Day was a big deal in our family, not only because Dad was a veteran of World War II – North Africa and Italy mostly, in the engineers – but because he was a big fan of the Indianapolis 500.

I haven’t mentioned Dad much in this story so far, but that’s mostly because he wasn’t around a lot of the time while this stuff was happening. He was, as I said, a carpenter. While he enjoyed doing inside work and even some cabinet making, he preferred outside carpentry, house building and that sort of thing. He’d already had a full list of work lined up for the summer and the tornado only added to it, so he was working sixteen-hour days, six and even seven days a week. He would have worked more except for having to eat and sleep. I knew from when I had been a little kid that he had to work when the work was there because in the winters it usually wasn’t.

As Joe, I learned a lot from Dad, at least in carpentry and mechanical work. I never did a great deal of carpentry as a job, but after Cindy and I bought our house I had all sorts of projects to do on it when I was off the road. The skills I had learned from Dad were valuable with them, as was his help before his health began to decline.

But while he was a carpenter and a good one, his heart was really in his cars. He was a car nut from the word go, and a very good mechanic for a person who didn’t make a living at it. As Joe, I remembered asking him one time why he didn’t want to be a mechanic instead of being a carpenter. He said that if he had to make a living at it doing things like oil changes and brake jobs it might have taken the fun out of it. That was a lesson that was to stick with me well after I became Joanie.

I knew that after the war, Dad had raced jalopies at various dirt bullrings around the region; the heated section of the garage where he did a lot of his car work had a lot of pictures and trophies from those days. It had been dangerous, and Mom made him give it up when she got pregnant. That just gave him more time to work on cars. By this time in his life he was a hot-rodder, more of the custom-car persuasion, although the cars he built in the garage when he was laid off in the winter usually could go like stink.

There was this kid in our class, Jerry Sawyer. His folks had more money than they had good sense, and on his sixteenth birthday they gave him a brand new Pontiac GTO, which was supposedly the hottest thing on the street in those days. Not too long after that he got involved in a little stoplight drag race against Dad in his classic deuce coupe, which had a little more than the flathead mill of the Beach Boys song. It had a warmed-up ’58 Chrysler hemi, just about the hottest thing possible before the 427 era came along, and Dad all but left him at the light.

Some of Joe’s fondest memories of Dad were riding around junkyards with him while he was looking for parts. If you remember the song Hot Rod Lincoln (“Son, you’re goin’ to drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop driving that hot rod Lincoln,”), the Lincoln that originally inspired the song was actually a Model A Ford with a postwar V-12 Lincoln engine. It was Dad’s fondest dream in those years to build a similar rod. He never did because he never found the mill; there were never many of them built and by the sixties they were rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

Dad was still a racer at heart, although he didn’t do it any more. An annual event around our house was to have a cookout on the patio during the Indianapolis 500, while we listened to Sid Collins call the race on the radio – it wasn’t televised real-time nationwide until sometime in the eighties. Mom was into it, too; she even kept lap charts. Every ten laps (although usually a few laps behind real time) they would read off the positions of the cars, and people like Mom would write them down on a chart to be able to see how the race was developing. Dad even took a rare day off to do the veteran’s activities in the morning – I was there in my wheelchair that year – and to listen to the race in the afternoon.

Even though I already remembered how the race came out, I was still looking forward to our annual ritual – it was something we all enjoyed as a family, and I knew from her diaries that Joanie had as well.

As Joe, I remembered the 1965 Indy 500 particularly well, mostly because it was at the height of the rear-engine revolution, and it was the first year one of the rear-engine cars won.

It was particularly enjoyable to be sitting out on the patio with my family and a few friends. I was wearing a T-shirt and miniskirt since it was difficult to get shorts on over my casts, listening to the race on the radio while we enjoyed grilled hot dogs and all the trimmings and side dishes. It may not have been as good as really being there but in a way it was better. Dad and Mom even relented on the normal rules and let Joey and me have a beer, which I was not going to turn down since the opportunity didn’t come very often, even though I didn’t care much for it at the time.

The race went just like I remembered. Jim Clark in a Lotus dueled with A.J. Foyt in the first few laps, and then ran away from the field. By the closing laps of the race he had a big lead over Parnelli Jones driving a last year’s Lotus in second. Dad was disappointed in that; Clark was a Scotsman, and he had big hopes that an American could somehow pull it out. “Darn it,” he said, watching his language for the sake of the women and the young girl around. “It looks like he’s going to win it.”

“I’ll bet he doesn’t,” I replied smugly. I had Joe’s memories on my side, after all.

“Not a chance,” Dad shook his head. “Would you like to bet a car wash on that?”

“Not on the deuce,” I smiled. “It would take too long, and I couldn’t do it until after I get these stupid casts off. Besides, I don’t have a car you could wash if I won. But I’ll bet you on it anyway since something stupid always seems to happen in the closing laps.”

“That’s something we’ve got to talk about, but not right now,” he said. “But you’ve got a bet.”

I sat back, had another sip of my beer – it was really tasting gunky now that it was pretty warm – and let the race play out. With that wonderful feeling of knowing you’ve bet on a sure thing, I settled back and listened to the last laps of the race.

But nothing happened, I realized in dismay. The Flying Scot motored the rest of the way to the finish as unconcerned as if he had been driving down an empty freeway with the only cops two states away.

What the hell? That wasn’t how I remembered it at all!

I remembered quite clearly how it had come out – one of Clark’s tires had developed a slow leak in the last two or three laps and he’d had to slow down or lose the tire. Parnelli caught him on the last lap, as did Mario Andretti, so he limped home in third!

So, even though I’d maneuvered Dad into betting on Jim Clark – something I would have thought impossible – he’d won the bet and I owed him a car wash after I was up and around. But I was scarcely aware of it, since I was deep in thought. I was sure how the race had ended, as sure of it as anything from Joe’s memories, but it hadn’t come out the way I thought it had.

Clearly something had changed. What?

Then a creeping suspicion from Joe’s more recent past began to settle on me.

I have to explain that as Joe I was an avid reader all my life. Even when I had been on the road with Tom, I had six or more waking hours of time to kill each day. Much of that over thirty years had been killed in the sleeper cab with a book in my hand since there was a limit to how sociable Tom and I could be; we may have been long-time co-workers and partners, but in the end we had not really been friends. For many years I’d always had a handful of paperbacks with me, so if one couldn’t hold my interest I could turn to another one.

Eventually, about fifteen years before in Joe’s time, I’d started experimenting with electronic books of one sort or another mostly because I could carry more books in less space. I had a Palm Pilot for a while which worked fairly well but which needed a goofy file format that was hard to find. Then, I switched over to a Sony, which also worked pretty well, but I couldn’t read it in the dark. I had a Kindle for a while but never liked it mostly because it was ergonomically hard to use – the buttons were in the wrong places and it took two hands if it wasn’t on a tabletop. Toward the end I had an Android that was much easier to use but went through its battery like it was popcorn. But I could read the Android in the dark and I could plug it into the electrical system in the sleeper cab, so it was by far my favorite.

Finding books to read was sometimes a hassle. I had never been much of a computer user except for the electronic books, but Anita taught me how to get online to several different websites and download free books. Some of them were stories by amateur writers, and at least the price was right. I spent a lot of time with those books; some them were pretty good but many of which weren’t worth the electrons they used up. But I remembered having read several where the main character was kicked back in time to his youth by whatever means. Other than the sex, which was often graphic and far in excess of the needs of the stories, almost universally the character got rich and powerful by using the memory of his former life and betting on things like sports events. Or, he knew which way the stock market was going to jump, or something like that.

That obviously wasn’t going to work for me. At least it was only going to cost me a couple hours of washing a car. If I’d made a serious bet on that race I could have lost my shirt and wound up sitting in the chaise lounge in my not very lacy bra.

In thinking about it some more, I realized that the results of the 1965 Indy 500 weren’t the only difference between what Joe remembered and what I saw around me.

To begin with, there was me, of course. Joe had no memory of Joanie; she hadn’t existed in his youth. There were other things more or less directly related to me, like the extra bedroom in the house, Joey driving a different car, and those kinds of things. But there was a house still standing a couple of miles away that had been blown flat in the Palm Sunday tornado that Joe remembered. That was a discontinuity that didn’t involve me.

Several of those amateur-author books I had read as Joe – and some of the better ones – had stories that involved alternate timelines, so that was a concept I was familiar with. In some of them, the characters could even move to different times on the parallel timelines, which, if true, would explain how I had lost over fifty years. The logic there was that some event split two timelines apart, and things could happen differently. That much made sense on the surface, but there were a number of holes in that leaky bucket once I thought about it a little.

I was aware from reading somewhere in the sleeper cab that mathematicians had worked out the idea that alternate timelines could exist, although there was no way they could be proved except as a mathematical abstraction. It was just another case of educated people not having anything useful to do, I remember thinking at the time. In some theories a timeline should split every time anyone made a decision. The choice between having ketchup on a hot dog or not ought to at least in theory cause a new timeline, one that existed with ketchup on the hot dog, and the other one without ketchup. If that were true it wouldn’t take long to reach an infinity of timelines.

At least one author I remembered came up with the premise that the splitting of timelines was true but that they tended to converge back in on one another, which would mean that there could be many timelines, but a finite number. That sounded a little more reasonable if I believed in the concept of multiple timelines at all.

So it was possible to believe that I was on an alternate timeline from my life as Joe. But if I believed that, it still opened up a rat’s nest of questions, like how did I make the switch between the two? How had I wound up in the body of a sister who hadn’t existed? There was a family connection, of course, but to make the connection as pure random chance – well, the odds were infinite. Was there some sort of intelligent intervention involved? God? Extra-terrestrials? Someone from the far future? And why? Why me? Thinking down that line soon led into an impenetrable jungle of improbabilities, implausibilities and incomprehensibilities.

I didn’t think that much of it out that afternoon. In fact, I’ve spent most of Joan’s life since then thinking about it off and on, and am not much closer to an answer I’m comfortable with than I was at that time. I just had to live with it, not necessarily understand it.

A zigzag jump between parallel timelines doesn’t seem very logical to me but it provides me with the easiest way of describing what happened. As far as I am concerned, Joe’s life was on Timeline One; Joan’s is on Timeline Two. There may be other timelines; I don’t know and have no way of finding out.

But there are clearly discontinuities between the timelines, like the outcome of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. I was to find other discontinuities as time went on, most of them relatively minor – no nuclear wars except for the tail end of World War II, for example.

My guess, if the timeline theory is true, is that the timelines split back sometime before the Civil War. I make that statement because in Timeline One where I had come from I once had an elementary school teacher who tried to jam down our throats the importance of remembering different important dates. I thought it was a crock at the time; what possible use would it be for me to remember that Lincoln was assassinated on April 17? Well, she proved to be right – in Timeline Two, Lincoln was shot on April 14. In other words, nothing really major in the great scheme of things, since history proceeded onwards in pretty much the same way, but a discontinuity nonetheless.

The split between the timelines could have occurred long before the Civil War, but Joe’s memory of what he learned of those days isn’t precise enough to make a judgment.

Since then, history has continued much the same way, with the same presidents, the same wars and so on, but sometimes the dates or the persons are a little different. Trends tend to be pretty much the same with good reliability; for example, the miniskirt was just coming in around 1965, but it was long gone ten years later on both timelines. The first personal computers started to appear in the 1970s, but by the end of the century they were common – with the exception that on Timeline One the big dog in operating systems was Xerox, not Microsoft, which was still a company but was mostly involved in games. And so on.

(If you will permit me the digression, one of the most dismaying things that occurred to me back when I had been in the hospital bed was that there were no personal computers and no Internet I could use to find out something. Netscape was at least thirty years away and Wikipedia closer to forty! How was I going to survive? I finally realized that it was going to have to be the same way I did the first time I went through that period, of course. It would have been a lot worse if Joe had been a heavy-duty computer nut, which he wasn’t, thank goodness.)

Just as an aside, the Indianapolis 500 continued to be a source of discontinuities. In Timeline One, Jimmy Clark won in 1966, when it was Graham Hill on Timeline Two. And then in 1967 on Timeline One Parnelli Jones won for the third time, driving a turbine-powered car; on Timeline Two it broke down in the last couple laps and A.J. Foyt won. I can’t say after that, because Joe wasn’t paying much attention to the race; he had other things on his mind at the time, and the races for the next few years weren’t the same kind of landmarks to him.

In the end, I learned that lesson cheaply. Rule Three: don’t bet the ranch on Joe’s memories, because things may be different.

I was grateful for learning that lesson when the first Super Bowl rolled around a year and a half later, when the Packers kicked the snot out of the Kansas City Chiefs. On Timeline One, the Detroit Lions won, and they have never made it near a Super Bowl on Timeline Two.

It was clear by then that I wasn’t going to make a huge pile of money betting on sports events that Joe barely remembered anyway.

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To be continued . . .

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