| Hope's Highway |
By Dorothy Garlock
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SHE WAS ON HER WAY TO CALIFORNIA.
Margie couldn't help smiling. She would endure whatever came her way just to realize her dream of going to Hollywood, seeing the stars, and maybe, just maybe, getting a part in a movie. Not a big part. She'd never acted except in a high-school play, but everyone said she was so good she carried the performance.
Her father shifted the gears, the truck jerked and they moved down the dirt road to the highway designated as Route 66, the Mother Road, the highway that would take them all the way to California.
Margie said good-bye for the second time to Conway, Missouri, the town where she had been born and raised and where her dreams of being a movie star had made the long, lonely winter months tolerable.
She turned her thoughts to the events of the days following her father's surprising visit to the café where she worked.."I'm goin' to California. You can come if you behave yourself," he had announced.
Margie had continued to swipe at the counter with a damp cloth. She was shocked. . . then angry at him for implying that she was in the habit of misbehaving. He had not spoken to her since her return to Conway last fall. She hadn't expected him to welcome her back with open arms or an offer of sympathy, but he could have come around to see if she was all right.
Now here he was inviting her to go with him to California, just weeks after his wife had run off and left him. Irked by his remark, she couldn't let it go. "What do you mean, behave myself?"
"I ain't takin' ya if you're goin' to run off with every Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along."
"That wasn't what I did, and you know it." Margie kept her head down lest he see how much his words angered her. And how much they hurt.
"Well, are you comin' or not?" "When are you leaving?" "Thursday."
"That's day after tomorrow. What part of California?" "Bakersfield." "Why Bakersfield?"
"Because I want to. Are you comin' or not?" He inched toward the door, almost as if he couldn't wait to get away from her.
"I'll let you know tomorrow." "Goddammit! I want to know now. You were eager enough to run off with that fly-by-night last summer." "That's why I'm being cautious. That fly-by-night stole my money and left me stranded down in Oklahoma."
"I could of told you he was a no-good shyster. But you didn't ask me. You just took the bit in your teeth like you always do. I'm surprised you had enough sense to find your way back."
"You knew I was going with him. Everyone in town knew I was going. Why didn't you come tell me Ernie Harding wasn't dependable?"
"'Cause you'd not of paid me no mind. That's why. You never did." He went to the door of the café. "Sundown tonight. If you're going, come out to the icehouse. If you're not there, I'll take Potter Jenkins or Mack Dertile." That morning Margie had watched her father get into his truck. She knew that he would not take one of the town drunks. He had nothing but contempt for them and wouldn't give them an ice chip if they were dying of thirst.
Margie's father, Elmer Kinnard, was a short man with broad shoulders and arms thickened by years of lifting heavy blocks of ice. His light hair was thinning on top. For all his bluster Margie knew he wanted her to go because he lacked the confidence to make the trip alone.
Was he going to see Robert's family? He'd not cared anything for his son while he was growing up and hadn't seen him in years. Some of Robert's relatives on his mother's side had reported that he had done pretty well for himself in California real estate but had died a year ago of a heart attack. Margie guessed Elmer might have heard that his own wife, Goldie, had headed out there. If she had, she would soon discover that being married to Elmer wouldn't get her special treatment from his son's family.
Elmer had married Goldie six months earlier, just weeks after she had come to town to visit a cousin. She had set her cap for him. He appeared to be a good catch. Brazen, with sweet smiles and soft touches, she had cooked for him and cleaned his house while the whole town of Conway watched and wondered if she was going to hook him. She had.
At first, Elmer had been generous with Goldie. She was pretty, though a little plump. He had been flattered by her attention. After they had settled into marriage, his true tight-fisted nature came to the fore. It was rumored that Goldie had become increasingly discontent with him and with their life in the small Missouri town. She left suddenly.
Elmer had never shown much interest in his only daughter. After her mother's death, Margie had gone to live with her maternal grandmother on the other side of the small town divided right down the middle by Route 66. She had never received a Christmas or a birthday present from him in all the years that followed, nor had he come to see her act in the school play or graduate from high school. And he usually avoided the café where she worked.
Margie's grandmother died the previous spring and left her a small inheritance. One hundred eighteen dollars seemed like a fortune, and Margie could see her dream of going to Hollywood becoming a reality. The dream, however, turned into a nightmare when the man she hired to take her stole her money, and she had to return to her old job at the diner in Conway. Because she was a good worker and the customers liked her, the owner was glad to have her back. Bertha, the cook and wife of the owner, leaned in through the window that fronted the kitchen. "You're goin', ain't ya?"
"I want to." "Then go, honey. There ain't nothin' here for ya. Go and see the sights before yo're tied down with babies and didies." "Not much chance of that 'round here."
"Gettin' babies? Flitter! Let it be known ya want one and ever' horny man in the county would be here eatin' three squares a day and pinchin' yore cute little butt ever' time ya passed by."
"You and Harry have been awfully good to me. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't given me my job back."
"You thinkin' Elmer wouldn'ta helped ya?" "He never has."
"You've been good for us too, hon. It's why I don't want to see ya slingin' hash for the rest of yore life." "I've always dreamed of going to Hollywood to see the stars."
"Yo're pretty enough to be one. Now, you'd better not tell Harry yo're leavin' until you know for sure Elmer's goin'. Be just like that rascal to get yore hopes up, then fizzle out."
"Rosemary wants to come back to work." "Her old man broke her arm is the main reason ya got yore job back. She was good help."
"If I give notice and Papa changes his mind about going, I'd be out of a job."
"I heard he sold the icehouse." "You did? Who'd he sell it to?" "The bank. Who else has any money?" "What do they want with it?"
"Who knows? I'd bet my bottom dollar that Goldie Kinnard didn't leave town broke. She might of got the bank to loan her money against the icehouse, and Elmer has to turn it over or pay the debt."
"He'd come out all right. One thing about my father, he knows how to hold on to his money. Grandma used to say that he saved ninety cents out of every dollar he made." "Yeah, he's a skinflint. Ain't no doubt about that."
An hour before sunset Margie had walked the six blocks from the café to the icehouse. She was not a tall girl and was so slender as to appear fragile, yet she walked with her head up and back straight as if she were used to walking long distances.
Her face was an oval frame for large light brown eyes, a straight nose and full, expressive lips. A barrette held her thick dark blond hair at the side. On first glance she did not seem a beautiful girl. But with a chin held high, bright interested eyes and lips that tilted at the corners in an almost constant smile, she nearly always got second and third glances.
As she approached the icehouse, her father came out onto the loading platform carrying a block of ice on his back, protected by his heavy leather shield. He eased the ice into a coaster wagon pulled by a barefoot boy, collected the money and stood waiting for her to say something.
"What car are you going in? Are you going to camp along the way?" Margie asked the questions as if continuing their earlier conversation.
"I'm goin' in my truck and I'm sure as hell not payin' the price for lodgin' from here to California. You figure you're too good to camp out?"
Margie ignored his sarcasm. "What do you expect of me?"
"I expect you to cook, tend the camp and keep your
"Where will I sleep?" "In the truck."
You're so stingy even with your words. Is that why Goldie left you?
Pretending indifference so that he'd not know how eager she was to go with him, she let a long time elapse before she said anything more. As she waited, she thought about the times when she was younger that she had stood down the street and looked with longing at this building and wondered why her father didn't want her. She had dropped in on him once when she was twelve years old. His harsh words had sent her scurrying back to her grandmother, and she had never ventured near him again. . . until now.
"I heard you sold the icehouse." "This is my last day." "Will you miss it?" "What do you care?" "I don't."
There was silence while Elmer removed the leather shield from his back and emptied the water from the pocket on the bottom.
"All right. I'll go with you." Margie blurted the words. "I leave on Thursday." "Do you need help getting the truck ready?" "No. It's ready."
"Then why are you waiting until Thursday to go?" "I got my reasons."
"Are you waiting to see if Goldie comes back so you won't have to take me?"
"I don't have to take you, girlie," he answered sharply. "I'm not a girlie. I'm a grown woman, in case you haven't noticed. I'm twenty-three years old." Margie couldn't keep the bite out of her voice.
"Then you're old enough to keep your nose out of things that ain't none of your business," he said in the harsh voice she remembered from her childhood.
"I'm not foolish enough to quit my job until I'm sure that you're going. If I don't work, I don't eat." And I sure can't depend on you for any help.
"Quit. I'm leaving Thursday," he barked. Then he added, "Sunup." He went back into the icehouse before she could say anything more.
Margie couldn't remember ever having had a civil conversation with her father, and she was not upset over this one. She was too excited. She hardly felt her feet hitting the rough roadbed as she walked back to her rooming house to get ready for the trip and dream of Hollywood.
At sunup on Thursday Margie waited in front of the rooming house with everything she owned in a suitcase and a cardboard box.
It was the talk of the town that Elmer Kinnard was pulling up stakes and going to California. But the big news, a surprise to all, was that he was taking Margie with him. Nearly all the citizens of Conway knew Elmer and had done business with him. Most of them had watched his daughter grow up and wondered why it was that Elmer didn't seem to know that she was alive.
In a little corner of Margie's mind, as she waited, was the fear that her father might change his mind about taking her. As far as she knew, he had never been more than a hundred miles from Conway.
"Your papa not here yet?" The man who came out of the rooming house was the printer at the newspaper.
"Not yet. But he'll be along." "Good-bye and good luck in California." "Thank you."
A few minutes later a truck rounded the corner and stopped. It was the truck Elmer used to haul ice. The sturdy sides rose up a foot higher than the cab. A heavy tarp was stretched across the top and tied down. Extra tires were secured to the sides.
Elmer came to the back and, without a greeting of any kind, let down the tailgate and waited for Margie to lift her suitcase and then her box into the truck. He shoved them back under the tarp, raised the tailgate and fastened it.
Now as the truck moved smoothly along the newly paved highway, Margie reflected on how little she knew about her father. She was reasonably sure that he wouldn't harm her, but she was also sure that she couldn't rely on him for protection. Harry and Bertha had seen to it that she would be able to protect herself. Before she left the café, Harry had given her a little pistol and taught her to load and shoot it.
"Ya can be sure of one thing, girl. If a man pushes himself on ya, he's goin' to do his damnedest to get in yore pants. Shoot the fucker, 'cause he won't leave ya alive to tell about it!" The pistol was tucked in her box, where it would be easy to get if she needed it.
Elmer Kinnard had never been an easy man to live with, and Margie wondered how he had managed to marry three women in his less than fifty years. His first wife died shortly after giving birth to Robert. Elmer turned the boy over to his wife's parents, which was understandable: He couldn't work and care for an infant. What was not understandable, however, was that after he had given the child away, he showed no more interest in him. In the early 1920s Robert went to California with his widowed grandmother, to live with her brother and his wife.
When Elmer was left with Margie, he turned her over to her grandmother. After he married Goldie, it was easy to see that he was fascinated with his new young wife. For a few months he was rather jovial in his quiet way, but it didn't last.
Now he was alone again.
Was he going to California thinking Goldie was there? Did he expect Robert's family to welcome him?
Miles passed in silence. Margie was content to gaze out the window and daydream. She was on her way again...to Hollywood. It was too good to be true. For years she had collected Silver Screen and several other movie magazines and thumbed through the pages until they were dog-eared. She seldom had the chance to see a movie, but when she had, it had provided her with dreams for weeks. She was enchanted by the glamour of the stars. She imagined herself wearing the slinky evening gowns, feathery boas, beaded slippers and sparkling jewelry.
Most of all she dreamed of meeting a man like John Gilbert, George Raft or Ronald Colman who would sweep her off her feet and carry her away to a mansion surrounded by a big stone fence with an iron gate. There he would keep her for days and days making passionate love to her. Back in 1926 she cried along with thousands of other fifteen-year-old girls when Rudolph Valentino died, and devoured all the news about the funeral and the mysterious woman who visited his tomb daily. Was she his secret lover, the love of his life? Had he loved-
"You got any money, girl?" Elmer asked, breaking into her daydreams.
"A little-and my name is Margie." "I know what your name is. How much you got?" "How much do you have?" she countered in the same tone of voice.
They were on their way. There was not much chance he would take her back. And if he stopped to put her out, she would reach for the pistol!
"If you got cash money, you'd best not carry it on you." "It's safer on me than in my suitcase or my box." "Do you think I'm goin' to steal it?"
"It was taken out of my suitcase before. I'm taking no chances this time."
The pavement ended. They drove onto the gravel road and into the dust stirred up by a car ahead. Margie cranked up the window. She kept her nose pressed to the glass and watched the landscape go by. When they passed men working on the road, they slowed until they were barely creeping along, and Margie waved. Several of the men waved back.
It seemed to her that they traveled miles and miles before they came to the pavement again. What a relief it was to be off the gravel road and away from the dust. She rolled down the window again and breathed in the warm clean air.
Elmer resumed a speed of between twenty-five and thirty miles per hour. Her father was a good driver; she had to give him that. But how was she going to endure weeks of confinement in this truck with this silent, cynical man?
The sun was directly overhead when Elmer pulled the truck into a grove beside the road and stopped. Margie got out, stretched her arms and legs and looked around for a place to relieve herself. She found cover in a heavy stand of bushes amid the trees.
On the way back to the truck she stopped and watched her father pouring water from a bucket into the radiator. He was a puzzle to her and had been since she was old enough to know that he was not in the least like other girls' fathers. He was a neat-appearing man: clean-shaven, and he'd recently had a haircut. His overalls and shirt looked to be new. She knew that she would never love him, but she wished that she could like him.
Elmer dropped the tailgate, reached for a wooden box and dropped it on the ground. She took it to be an invitation to step up into the back of the truck. She was surprised at how compact and efficiently arranged it was. Close to the end on one side was a water barrel and next to it a cabinet with two doors. Tight against the cabinet was a small upright icebox fastened to the side of the truck. She didn't look, but was reasonably sure a small hole had been drilled in the bed of the truck beneath the icebox because there was no pan underneath to empty.
On the other side was a long bench piled high with bedding and boxes. Beneath it, she could see a camp stove and what appeared to be a small rolled-up pup tent. Across the front, next to the cab, her father had built in a heavy wooden box with a padlocked lid. On this was a thin pad.
Every foot of space in the truck bed had been utilized. Margie looked at her father standing at the end of the truck and smiled to let him know how pleased she was with what he had done.
He grunted and walked away.
Excerpted from Hope's Highway , by Dorothy Garlock . Copyright (c) 2004 by Dorothy Garlock . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top