Monday, December 29, 2008

Highway 95

One of the better remembered of Mother's short stories is Highway 95. It just so happens that there is a real Highway 95 that runs through the hometown of her youth. She told me once that she was not thinking of it when she named the story, and since she didn't learn to drive until late in life and did not pay attention to such things until then, it probably was a subconscious thing on her part.

Mr. Carlson chewed savagely on his battered cigar, and fumed at the driver of the gray coupe ahead of him. The car had been creeping along in front of him for at least ten miles. He could not see the driver from his high position behind the wheel of the huge van, and he wondered if it wasn't a woman. Mr. Carlson hated female drivers. During twelve years of driving for Davis & Ross, he had been involved in only three traffic accidents, and every one of them had been the fault of some addle-brained woman.

Nice dairy farm there. Looked like fifty cows around the trough. Maybe he'd retire in a few more years, and he and Lucy could buy a farm. Lucy probably wouldn't like a farm though. Too far from her women friends.

The car ahead slowed to a creeping 30 m.p.h., and Mr. Carlson's eyebrows met in a straight dark line. Why in Jupiter hadn't the guy stayed home if he hadn't intended to go anywhere? Mr. Carlson wanted to get back to Edinborough within the hour. Anne would be home at four. He relaxed temporarily as he thought of his beloved daughter. The boys were good kids, and he loved them, too, but Anne had always been something special to him. Her tousled dark head bobbed up in the middle of all his most cherished memories. He remembered so well her first day at school, a little gray-eyed pixie, so full of life and confidence, so quick to make friends. When at sixteen she had been elected as the most popular girl in school and crowned queen of Edinborough High, her father's pride had known no bounds.

The gray couple gradually picked up speed, and Mr. Carlson followed suit. Why couldn't he find an open stretch of highway, and get ahead of that fool? If only the traffic would thin out a little, he could whip around him, and make good time the rest of the way. Now he was slowing down again. Mr. Carlson cursed softly. If he could only make that idiot hear him, he'd tell him a thing or two. He glanced again at his watch, and eased the big van up until it almost rubbed the back end of the coupe. Couldn't the guy take a hint and move on? He slammed his foot on the brake. Evidently he couldn't. Okay, okay! If that's what he wanted, they'd crawl into town at twelve o'clock. What else was there to do?

Anne coming down the stairway the night of her first big date, a vision in misty blue. With clear gray eyes, wide with suppressed excitement, and dark curls inky against white shoulders, she had come down the stairs slowly, shyly aware of the picture she made. Mr. Carlson had realized then for the first time how quickly his little girl was growing up. The thought had brought an empty sinking feeling to his heart. Sensing something amiss, Anne had come to his chair and, perched on the arm as always, teased him into a good humor, promising to be home before twelve.

He remembered how it had sometimes bothered him to have her anticipate his wishes that way and obey them without being asked. Anne had always understood her father better than anyone, even Lucy. He supposed that explained the comradeship between them. He smiled to himself, remembering how the tiny dark-haired girl had listened gravely to his plans and dreams. He talked to her of things he never mentioned to his wife. Lucy was too practical to dream.

Mr. Carlson edged to the left of the coupe, and his palm moved toward the horn, but another line of heavy traffic topped the rise ahead. He dropped back resignedly. It was three-fifteen, and Edinborough lay many miles away.

Why hadn't he taken the day off, anyway? Old man Davis would have been glad to let him off if he'd asked.

"Meet me at the gate, Dad," Anne had written. Three years was a long time to be separated from someone who meant so much. Too long for Mr. Carlson. Didn't see why she had to pick a college so far away, anyhow. Plenty of good schools right here in the state, and she didn't need to go to summer school either. Just twenty, with her whole life to get an education, but Anne had never taken things slowly.

Mr. Carlson raged silently at the slow moving gray coupe. What was the guy doing anyway? Inspecting the whole countryside? No good reason for anyone to crawl like that. He glanced at his watch. Three forty-five! And home still fifteen miles away. Mr. Carlson's mouth tightened in exasperation as he thought of Anne's being disappointed to find him gone. He could almost see her slipping gracefully from the car, and running to meet him. Three long years! Would she still look the same?

The needle of the speedometer hovered between 40 and 45. Mr. Parker looked up as the big van rumbled past his service station, and waved a friendly greeting, but Mr. Carlson did not see. He was watching tensely for a chance to make one more effort to get ahead of that infernal car.

The highway rose and curved gently to the left just ahead, dipping abruptly on the other side of the hill. Mr. Carlson ignored the warning yellow stripes, and cut swiftly to the left. He was too pressed for time to drive carefully now. The cab of the van drew even with the gray car. A loaded milk truck whipped around the curve a scant hundred and fifty feet ahead. As he wrenched the van to the right, Mr. Carlson caught one glimpse of the driver's horrified expression. The gray coupe scraped a screaming path along the side of the van a bare second before the milk truck rammed its way, with grinding impact, into the other side, hurling the three vehicles off the highway, and piling them into a twisted heap at the bottom of the slope.

Mr. Carlson climbed groggily from the cab, and leaned against the upturned milk truck. The coupe was lying on its side, almost flattened by the heavy tail of the van lying across it. He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes, trying to dispel the red haze blurring his vision. His sleeve came away warm and sticky.

He pulled at the door of the milk truck, and turned away. Maybe the driver of the car hadn't been hurt. He stumbled around to the coupe, but as he caught sight of the driver he swayed dizzily, and caught at the upended car for support. Her slender body was caught half under the coupe, and he could see that any help would come too late for her. Her wide-spaced gray eyes were beginning to dull, as Mr. Carlson dropped to his knees beside her and smoothed the tumbled dark curls from her face.

I believe it was after this story was published that Mother was called in by one of her teachers for a consultation. The teacher was worried at the dark theme and wanted to make sure she was okay.

I now drive Highway 95 every day on my commute. In the days that Mother wrote this story, it was a two lane highway with no shoulder and it remained that way until the last few years. Many a wreck occurred on that road because of the long stretches where passing was not possible. Even with the widening of the road to include two roomy shoulders and the cooperation of those of us who travel it regularly to move over and allow the impatient ones to go ahead, there are still deadly wrecks on a regular basis. Most recently was just a week or so ago when a car went out of control and two young men were killed.

I first read this story many years before I learned to drive. I think it is one reason why I am always overly cautious about passing other cars. Better late than dead.

Highway 95 appeared in the Fall 1950 issue of the Baylorian. Mother was Associate Editor at the time, a lowly sophomore who had already made her mark on the English department.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brushes With Color

This article appeared in The Sketch Book of Kappa Pi, the official publication of Kappa Pi National Honorary Art Fraternity, in Spring 1952.

Someday when you are tired of working and feel like neglecting tomorrow's assignments, why not wander over to Presser Hall for a visit to the art studio? Visitors here are numerous and always welcome. Borrow a paint-smeared smock, stick a few paint brushes behind your ear, and mingle with the gang.

But remember--if you want to be accepted as a member of the family, kick off those moccasins and leave 'em outside. Never does one hear the click of heels across the hardwood expanses of this studio. It has long been the generally accepted opinion that chances of being artistic are small if you insist on wearing footgear in the art lab. It just isn't done.

The newcomer is immediately impressed by the unique atmosphere of the studio. Uninformed visitors smile and breathe soft exclamations sprinkled with words like 'rarified', 'inspiring', 'uplifting'. With a little investigation you can find out what the art students have always known. It's just the pleasing combination of spaciousness, light, and the blended odors of turpentine, leather dye, glue, oil paint, wet clay, charcoal fixative, new leather, and numerous other materials that the artist finds useful.

Another factor contributing to the all-over effect is the constant background of music drifting in through the big windows from the practice rooms on the lower floors.

Displayed on the walls are works in watercolor, oils, and aquatints by art instructors Marion Hebert and Ruth Collins. Sunny landscapes, flower arrangements in rich colors, and the cool, darker tones of the aquatints lend interest and warmth to the big room.

You'll find the clay-modeling class to the left, as you enter. Afternoon visitors watch students working before green-topped tables, chatting busily while nimble fingers shape lumps of grayish clay into anything from grasshoppers to angels or queer little animals called "wooflepoofs".

On a typical day you might observe one student anchoring a bullfrog to a lily pad, another placing a tiny hymn book in the hands of a fat little choir boy, and still another trying to persuade a lean, lanky cowboy that the head he seems determined to keep shedding would really look better on his shoulders than rolling about on the table.

In another section of the studio you will see the oil-painting class concentrating on getting the paint on the canvas instead of themselves, a feat never quite accomplished. Across the room, the students of leather tooling may be found turning out everything from coin purses to saddles. And in another corner the life-drawing class is arranged in a half-circle around their swim suit clad model.

Not all the work is done indoors, however. Those of us who have resided here for a time know that spring is heralded at MH-B, not by robins on the premises, but by members of the watercolor class. On the first sunny day of the new year, they scatter over the campus setting up easels and campstools. If your curiosity is up to par, you won't be able to resist the impulse to stroll about and peer over a few shoulders. Just be careful not to step on any of the little tubes of paint lying about.

In the days when a certain campus personality was quite innocent of the knowledge that artists do not call colors by their rightful names such as red, yellow, or green, as we do, but speak instead of cadmium, ochre, thalo, etc., she enjoyed watching pictures taking shape, and often spent the afternoon observing until the day a young artist waved a brush under nose and wailed plaintively, "You've mashed my burnt umber!" The offender retreated hastily murmuring embarrassed apologies. It was bad enough, she thought, for the poor girl to have a burnt umber without her stepping on it. She felt better when she learned she had done nothing worse than wreck a tube of brown paint.

There have been some muttered suggestions from art students that this class should count as a physical education course as well as art. On a typical painting excursion, the student is burdened with easel, drawing board, brushes, palette, paper, tacks, erasers, pencils, campstool, a jar filled with water, and a large ragged paint cloth. You don't have to be good in mathematics to know that not even an art major has enough hands to carry all that equipment. However, by learning to juggle, and mastering the art of balancing a campstool on top of the head, the student manages to hike to some point of scenic interest. By the end of the semester, she not only has a collection of paintings, but has acquired a dandy set of muscles also.

Art students are a talkative lot, and they enjoy company. Don't hesitte to amble over to the studio and get acquainted some afternoon. You can absorb some of the relaxing informality, breathe deeply of that "rarified" atmosphere, and notice the view from the south windows. You might even find yourself making room in your schedule for an art course next semester.

Presser Hall was and is the Fine Arts center of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The right side of the building, shown on this postcard, contains the recital hall. The first floor contains practice room after practice room and there is almost constant faint piano music. The art department was upstairs and I did visit the cavernous studio a time or two while I was a student. It was a fascinating place. My only experience in taking a class in the building was a Music Appreciation course, but I snuck in to practice on a piano now and again.

Mother was an English major but one of her roommates, June Surber, was an art major so Mother had plenty of exposure to the art community at MHB. I suspect that this article was first printed in The Bells, the college newspaper, as a promotion for the art department. June painted Mother's portrait and it still hangs in our home.

Mother was no slouch as an artist herself. I'm betting she spent quite a lot of time poking around that studio.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bustin' Loose

Must I forever be chained hand and foot by courtesy and politeness? Must I always fight bravely against those impulses to throw caution to the wind, and say what I think--do what I want to? Someday, perhaps, I will kick free from my detested bonds, and shout with the joy of complete freedom. I'll be doing what I'd do if I dared!

First I will go to the movies, and wait in grim anticipation for the inevitably ponderous matron, with a hat to match, to blunder down the aisle, explore my tight-lipped face thoroughly with a groping hand, and plunge into the seat directly in front of me. Then--if I have not already bitten that fragrantly plump hand--I will gently reach forward, grasp the monstrosity she calls a hat, and dash it into the aisle, where I will plant my foot firmly upon it, and raise my long-suppressed opinion of women who wear picture hats to the movie, and neglect to remove them.

My burning little heart eased by this good deed, I will stroll jauntily back to my dormitory room, whistling gaily. My roommate will undoubtedly meet me at the door. She always does.

"Oh, there you are!" she will trill sweetly. "Will you take this book over to the library like a good girl? I simply must roll my hair--and besides, I'm all ready for bed."

Smiling savagely, I will say as I've often wanted to--

"You may take your own book to the library, and as for being ready for bed--I'm sure I don't mind if you stroll across the campus in pajamas. Now don't bother me, or I"ll put glue in your shampoo."

And while my beloved but bothersome roommate stalks tearfully to the library, I will probably carry out my threat.

The next day, I will go to class, my mind clear of cluttered information and jumbled facts. From the day of my liberation forward, I will refuse to study. Never again will I force an interested expression upon my face, and discuss stale theories of psychology or unimaginative chemical formulas. When the math professor beams proudly at his class and says, "Do you not find the study of logarithms simply fascinating?"--I will rise to my full height of five feet, two inches, and tell the truth for once.

There are innumerable other things that I will also find time to do in the glory of my new-found liberty. I will saunter across the campus to English class as barefoot as any little boy ever seen by Whittier. I will not wash my ears, or keep a laundry list; I will not "tear on dotted line," or "rinse hair thoroughly before second application." I will never again "squeeze tooth paste from end of tube."

I will not tell my roommate she looks grand when I know very well that she has never looked worse. I will not say, "I'm so happy to have met you" when I'd rather say, "Just wait 'til I get my hands on the dope that introduced you to me!" I will never again say to Mother's guest, "That's a perfect dream of a hat you're wearing" when I'm thinking that if she doesn't soon take it off I'll be sea-sick from following the antics of little doo-dads on the ends of madly swaying wires.

I'll rebel! I'll do what ever one wants to do, and doesn't dare. I'll realize all my little suppressed desires and impulses. I'll be free from all fetters of custom and false courtesy. I'll--I'll--I'll bust loose!

This little piece appeared in the Spring 1949 issue of the Baylorian. This would have been Mother's second semester at Mary Hardin-Baylor College.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Fiend Lucife

This short story appeared in the Winter 1951 issue of The Baylorian, a college literary magazine of which my mother was editor during part of her tenure at Mary Hardin-Baylor College. It was inspired by a quirk of her own typewriter.

Until ecently, Lucife has been a vey good fiend of mine. We woked togethe in pefect hamony until he got subbon and stated ejuvenating the alphabet. We wote lettes, stoies, poety, and hied out to type tem themes of othe people. Fo this we ecived ten cents pe page, and we split the poceeds evenly. Lucife spent his pat fo cleaning fluid and fesh ibbon, and I geneally got no futhe than the bookstoe with my pat.

Lucife used to be quite popula in ou domitoy. Someone boowed him almost evey night. The only complaint eve made against him was his tendency to cul up his ibbon in a knot and efuse to budge, but he neve did this unless he was tied o mad about something. He's a little tempemental. He only tied it with me once. I was typing a theme about Geoge Washington, and Lucife can't stand Geoge Washington. He hates him because so many people conside him the geatest man in the histoy of Ameica. Lucife thinks M. emington and M. and ae the geatest figues in the histoy of the whole wold, not to speak of Ameica. I can undestand his viewpoint.

Lucife is lagely esponsible for my usual state of unemployment. We wite numeous lettes of application, but someone else always gets the job. Afte all, who wants to hie someone who gives evey indication of being completely ignoant of the existence of a cetain lette of the alphabet? I tied to explain this to Lucife, but he seems to think that if the Southenes can ignoe the eighteenth lette, why can't he? Maybe he's got something thee.

Some people ae naow-minded enough to believe that a typewite has neithe pesonality o, speaking simply, mental capacity. I know this to be a fallacy, and if Lucife had hind legs I'm sue he would stand up on them and chee that statement. He pides himself on his intelligence and he has his pesonal likes and dislikes same as eveyone else. Fo instance, he has a geat weakness fo a cetain light fom of beveage. And until he has had his moning potion of Happlespoon's All Pupose Machine Oil, he's as unbeaable as some people befoe they've had thei beakfast coffee.

As fo dislikes, he cannot bea the sight of my oommate. Thei elationship was puely satisfactoy until the cold winte night she left him out of his case and caused him to catch a hoible cold. Since that time, thee has been a distinct ai of coolness between them. Lucife does not fogive easily.

Fom all this I have evealed of Lucife's pivate life, one might come to the conclusion that said typewite has a key loose somewhee. Be that as it may, I have neve come upon him clicking to himself, and until I do, I shall maintain my faith in his sobiety.

Indeed, if he would only stop being subbon and tempeamental, I would be vey happy to esume ou pleasant fiendship. Lucife could be a geat help to me, but instead he causes me to get low gades in English, and it's all his fault that no one eve wites to me. Who wants to coespond with someone who misspells eve othe wod?

I've tied aguing, pleading, easoning and theats, but nothing seems to wok. Lucife just sits thee looking exaspeatingly unconcened. I guess I'm stuck with him, and I may as well stat getting used to a 25 lette alphabet. Oh, dea!

Now for the younger generation that came along after the demise of the manual typewriter, I will explain that Mr. Remington and Mr. Rand referred to the manufacturers of a major brand of typewriter. I personally was partial to the product of Mr. Underwood and actually achieved a speed of 72 words per minute on an Underwood back in 1971. Believe it or not, children, that included having to return the carriage yourself at the end of every line. And you poor kids have never known the thrill of a key-jam, let alone the joys of threading in a new ribbon and ending up with blackened fingers. Ah, the good old days.

This was murder to rekey. I bet the typesetters for the magazine could have throttled Mother for this story.