Henrietta, Texas, 1949: If you drive north out of town, the road curves clockwise around the dam of the water reservoir, and after a sharp left turn crosses the bridge. This is the place where a car-owning teenager must determine how fast he can drive around that corner.
In my high school years, Wayne Klein’s souped-up 1955 Mercury held the record. In the movies, all teenagers have souped up hot rods, but the average teenager knows nothing about motors, and doesn’t know how to change the oil, much less how to “soup up” a car. Besides, what does soup have to do with it?
Wayne’s car was actually souped up, because his father had souped it, and it ran like a bat out of hell, so Wayne could drive that curve at 55 miles an hour. Since the posted sign says “25”, this was a wonderful accomplishment. And, unlike unfortunate Beckham Guthrie Jr., Wayne wasn’t even killed.
Now, if you chose not to take that left turn, and just followed the curve of the dam, you would drive onto a dirt road and come to a gate. This wooden gate is usually padlocked, but if it were open, you’d drive behind the dam, and in a dry wood of mesquite and oaks and dappled sunlight, you’d find an open meadow of sandy soil, with a cream-colored building beneath trees to the left, and to the right picnic tables and horseshoe stakes. This grandeur was the Henrietta Country Club.
Who belonged to this Country Club? I do not know. Why would they go out there? I do not know. Was there golf? There was not.
Earlier, in sixth grade, a very slender and elegant man who had a poodle and clapped his hands frequently held dancing lessons there on Tuesday evenings. Professor Rudolfo taught me to dance the waltz and the foxtrot with Linda Brown, to my eternal delight. And he taught a bunch of other kids, too.
I can report that the cream-colored building has a wooden floor, an air of mystery, and a kind of kitchen in the back, not that different from the Avenue Ballroom aside from being out in the woods behind a dam.
Even earlier, when I was five, Mrs. Miller took me and Rex and Mike to a cookout, a Fourth of July celebration. There in the sun and the shade and the scurrying dust, a hundred children darted about like wild animals, playing chase and Red Rover. Campfires smoked in the brick firepits, roasting hotdogs and hamburgers. And to top it off, a grand drawing.
When we’d driven in, tickets were issued to everyone. I had one. Rex had one. Mike was too little to hold his, but Mrs. Miller held it for him. And when it came time for the big drawing, the man pointed me out and asked me to help.
I nodded yes.
He had a cage of wood and wire, and the tickets tumbled inside. The numbers on tickets matched the ones we were holding. My job was to reach into the cage and pull out a ticket. Then he would call out the number, and somebody won a toaster.
After the toaster there was a cash prize. Somebody was going to win a dollar. But when the man called out the number, nobody had it. He called the number several times. It was a mystery. Who would have the ticket?
Finally, he looked at my ticket. It was me.
I had pulled my own number from the cage, winning the dollar. I was pleased to win a dollar, though I didn’t exactly know what a person would do with a dollar.
Later, when we got back to Rex and Mike’s house, I bragged happily to Rex that I had won a dollar. He’d seen me win it, of course, and he grew angry. I was puzzled.
“Why didn’t you win a dollar?” I asked him.
He said it was because I didn’t pull his number out of the cage, stupid.