I don't think life was easy for Dinky when he was a kid. He grew up poor in a large family--I don't know how many brothers and sisters he had, but there was a bunch of them. For a time, his family lived in Batesville, a row of run-down rental houses strung out on Highway 281 near the old Wichita Indian Agency. It was not a distinguished neighborhood, but Dinky airily referred to his home as his "Batesville townhouse."
Dinky's parents ran the local office of the Mistletoe Express, which delivered packages and freight to towns across Oklahoma. I didn't know his parents well, but I liked them. They occasionally sponsored dances in the Mistletoe Express warehouse, and they kindly turned off all the lights except for one dim bulb painted red. In my eyes, getting invited to a Mistletoe Express dance outranked a visit to the White House.
As his nickname implied, Dinky was small for his size, but he was a natural athlete. I considered myself too frail to play high school football, but Dinky, who weighed less than I did, was the quarterback. I remember one home game when he was knocked out cold by a beefy lineman from one of our opponent schools--Chickasha maybe or Lawton. He lay inert on the field and Coach Wells hurried out to see if he was seriously injured.
By the time Coach Wells arrived by his side, Dinky had regained consciousness. His first words were, "How is the crowd taking it, Coach?"
One more clear memory of Dinky. When he was about 15 years old, he acquired an ancient pea-green colored Studebaker and he began driving regularly around town. My God, that was an ugly car! And it spewed out more black smoke than an ocean liner. I don't think Dinky gave a damn about the fact that he didn't have a driver's license. And apparently, the Anadarko police didn't care either.
I lost track of Dinky after we graduated high school, but I saw him years later at our high-school class's annual reunion. We were in our thirties.
"Do you remember that night I picked you up on Central Boulevard?" he asked me. "You were crying and you showed me belt marks on your legs."
I had wiped that night from my memory, but Dinky's question brought it back. Yes, my father had beaten me with his belt that night and I had run out of our house to get away from him. It was a rainy, cold autumn night, and I was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I wasn't even wearing shoes.
Dinky stopped to give me a lift in his pea-green Studebaker. I was shivering and crying, and I remember the car's heater was blowing hot air. I also remember showing Dinky the belt-shaped bruises on my legs and I remember vowing to run away from home--my fool's dream.
I must have been a pathetic sight, but Dinky was sympathetic; and as far as I know, he never told anyone about that night--which I still appreciate.
Years later, thinking about that evening, it occurred to me how old I must have been when my father beat me with his belt. Dinky was driving, so I must have been at least 15-years old. And there I was, barefoot, wet, and coatless; humiliated and crying; rattling on about running away from home. Dinky--good old Dinky--rescued me in his magical Studebaker.
Thank you, Dinky. I don't know if there is a heaven, but if there is, you will be there. Maybe God will replace the engine on your trusty Studebaker so it won't burn so much oil. Maybe He will give it a paint job. And maybe that will be your job in paradise--rescuing desperate kids.
I myself may never know what heaven looks like, but I feel quite sure it won't look like Anadarko.
|A 1950 Studebaker