Learning to Drive


Hitler and Stalin, I called them–the vehicles Dad used as my first driving experiences. I hated the beasts almost as much as I hated Grampa’s mangy cur he called Hitler.  Grampa said his mean dog was part wolf and I believed him.   I guess you could say I named the truck after a mean dog.  When my uncles hung around the yard they’d talk about Stalin and he seemed like a bad person, too, so the other truck got that name.

Both trucks were ’41 Fords that had seen better days. They were loud, stinky and didn’t have much power.  Power wasn’t a big deal when we were in the field alongside the silage chopper, but when we had to take a load of chopped corn up Boese’s steep hill—well, if I had known real curse words I would have used them then—if I could breathe, that is.  That old truck lugged so slow—I was never sure it wouldn’t stop and roll backwards down the hill.

What I had to do was to drive whatever truck I was in alongside the big silage chopper and make sure the spout blew the freshly chopped corn into the truck bed.  No air conditioning in those days, of course, so the trucks didn’t have doors on them, a fact that punished severely when I didn’t keep up and the chopped corn hit my legs instead of the truck bed.

Yes, I hated every minute.  Still, I was actually driving, and that made a ten year old girl feel pretty important. I had driven Dad’s John Deere tractor before, of course, but all the farm kids did that.  A truck was definitely a step up.

Another thing made me feel important and it was the other driver. Marvin was a guy Dad picked up near the tavern in town.  Said he was a nice fellow who was down on his luck and was willing to drive one of the trucks for low wages.  Marvin was real nice to me—brought me candy bars from town and told me I was real pretty.  Nobody ever told me that before.

One time Dad caught him tickling me.  He said, “Marvin, I believe we can handle cutting the rest of the corn by ourselves now.”  I couldn’t figure it out—we didn’t even have half of the fields cut and layered in the silo.

Dad always let Marvin take Hitler back to town, to the room over the tavern where he stayed, so he left with the agreement that Mom and Dad would get the truck later, when they went for groceries.

Shortly after Marvin left, Mom and Dad took our old ’49 Mercury into town for groceries. When they came back without Hitler I asked Dad why.

“Somebody said they saw the old truck flying off Apple Tree road, clearing the bluff and sinking into the Missouri River, “ he said. “And that’s the end of it, you hear?”

We never spoke of Hitler or Marvin again.


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